I wanted to talk about coffee processing and the difference between wet and dry processed. But first we have to understand how the coffee beans grows.
The coffee bean grows within the coffee cherry. The coffee tree will blossom with white flowers that last for one or two days and smells like lavender. After blossoming the small buds of the coffee cherry will appear. These grow throughout the year. They are green and slowly turn red when ripe. This is when they are picked for the best coffee flavor.
The coffee bean has 5 layers. The outer skin (the red part you see), the pulp, mucilage, parchment, silver skin and finally the coffee bean. All of these layers are removed in processing except the silver skin. The silver skin may or may not stay on the coffee bean. Normally this comes off during roasting in the form of chaff.
After the cherry is picked it will be submerged in a vat of water and all the cherry's that float will be removed and burned. These float because a bug has bored into the cherry and laid its eggs inside the coffee cherry. The reason for burning is to destroy the larva and kill it so it can't grow and infect other trees. Once the floaters are removed, it moves to the next stage and here is were we see the difference.
The cherry will then be blasted with high pressure water to remove the cherry. The bean remains in water to soak where the mucilage is removed by natural enzymes. The bean is then hulled to remove the parchment. The bean is dried in racks in the sun for days to weeks requiring frequent stirring, or sometimes in forced air drying racks to shorten the drying time. In some place the bean might be dried on the ground or on concrete drying pads depending on the poverty of the area.
Dry processing is when the coffee bean is dried within the coffee fruit. This method requires drying of the fruit and the bean in raised beds. The drying time is longer because there is more mass that needs to be dried down. This also requires daily stirring of the beans and also that the beans be covered from rains during the drying process, requiring constant attention.
After the cherry/bean is dried down to around 11% it will then be run through a breaker that puts pressure on the coffee cherry breaking the skin and parchment off the coffee bean. Some farmers are now saving the coffee cherry and making tea from it. It makes a very good tea and has many health benefits. This is becoming more popular and also increases profits helping farmers survive.
Coffee is ranked with a points rating scale. Anything over 80 points is rated specialty coffee. Anything above 95 I don't think any of us can afford. Both processing methods produce coffee that is ranked higher than 80. Water process coffee is know to have a cleaner cup. Some of the highest ranked coffee is washed or wet processed coffee. However dry processed coffee is the original way that coffee was processed and carries all of the history with it. Also some will say it adds more flavor or certainly a different flavor to the bean. I drink both and enjoy good coffee regardless of the processing method. Dry processing does use less water and seems to have less environmental impact. I was not able to visit the wet processing plant on my resent trip to Panama so I didn't see if there are ways company's are able to reuse water and reuses the pulp or how it is disposed of.
I hope this has increased your knowledge of coffee and the process, causing you to enjoy your cup of coffee even more!
Here at Northwestern Coffee Mills we love coffee and the joy and comfort that it brings to our lives. We want to help you experience that joy or to expand your current knowledge of where the coffee comes from that you love so much.