Coffee is a fruit! When coffee cherries are picked from the coffee tree, the ripe fruit is processed by the individual farmers or by a Co-Op offering such services to farmers. The coffee we enjoy is the seed/pit of that coffee cherry!
Coffee is typically processed in one of several ways. The processing method also contributes flavor characteristics into the coffee seed.
Washed Process – After picking, coffee cherries are sent through a milling machine to remove the ripe fruit mass from the seed. The pulp is often recycled into animal feed or fertilizer. The coffee seeds are then sent through a washing process to ferment and remove the sticky mucilage that remains on the coffee seeds. Post removal, the seeds are then spread on drying patios or screens to dry in the sun. Coffee flavor is very consistent from lot to lot.
Natural Process – After picking, coffee cherries are set out in the sun to allow the fruit to naturally decompose. The coffee cherries are often agitated and rotated through raking. After all the fruit has decomposed, the seeds remain in the sun to dry. Natural processing is used in countries where water is scarce. Naturally processed coffees may be somewhat inconsistent from lot to lot and cup to cup due to rates of fruit decomposition, fermentation, and drying times. Fruit flavors in the coffee seeds can be amazing.
Honey Process – After picking, coffee cherries are sent through a milling machine to remove part of the ripe fruit mass from the seed, leaving part of the fruit on the seed. The seeds are then set in the sun to dry and allow part of the fruit to ferment on the seed. Seeds are continuously agitated through raking to ensure even drying in the sun. Honey processing does not involve any HONEY as produced by honey bees. Honduras is well known for some spectacular honey process coffee.