Reading A Coffee Label
How coffee is processed can have a dramatic effect on the resulting flavor of the bean. There are three different ways to process coffee; the natural, the washed, and the honey process. While choosing a process, the coffee producers keep in mind a few things: what process will diminish the defects on their coffee and what resources they have access to. 

Processing of the coffee takes place before the coffee goes on the market to get sold. The point of process is to get the moisture content of the coffee between 10-12% to be properly stored in the sacs for trading on the market. 

The Natural Process

The natural process, also referred to as the dry process, is the oldest way to process coffee. This process is very popular to many countries because it uses the least amount of water. After the coffee cherry is picked, the cherry is laid out to dry on a drying bed, or a prick patio (below) to soak up the sun! The beans are turned every hour by hand to allow for even drying. Many times, this process allows for the beans to take up fruity flavors such as blueberry and strawberry. 



The Washed Process

The washed process is much more expensive than the natural process and requires more water (hence the name). Therefore, this process might not be the right fit for farmers who live in areas without access to water. The point of this process is to remove all the honey coating of the coffee bean before the drying starts. Once the cherry is picked, a de-pulping machine strips the cherry layer from the coffee bean. The beans are then placed in a tank of clean water where the rest of the coating is stripped by fermentation. The fermentation process takes time depending on altitude and temperature. The hotter it is, the faster this process will take. The farmers must attend to this process closely, because if left to ferment for too long, bad flavors can take over. 

After the beans have fermented, they are set the dry on drying tables or patios and turned exactly like they are in the natural process. The flavors that the washed process makes in the final cup of coffee is increased acidity and cleanliness to the cup. Cleanliness is something a coffee buyer looks into because this means there is an absence of negative flavors in the bean. 

The Honey Process

This process is an in-between of the other two processes. Some water is used, but less than that of the washed process. This process is difficult because fermentation can occur quickly, so the farmers have to be very cautious to not ruin their crop. This process is called the honey process because the “honey” of the cherry is left on the entire time of the process. The honey is the sticky coating that covers the coffee bean in the cherry (below). As you can imagine, this will allow sweeter flavors to the final cup because the sugars will develop into the cherry for longer than the other two processes. Once the cherry is picked, the cherry is stripped from the bean, but the honey mucilage is not washed off. The beans are set out to dry in the sun. 


When you pick up your favorite bag of beans from three fins, you will notice the process listed on the label. Take a peek next time and relate the process to the flavor profile, and also the country of origin because they usually compliment each other!

Catherine Bieri