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Intro to Green Bean Processing

By Daniel Parodi on

Bragging. A couple years ago I was meeting with a commercial green coffee customer at one of his retail locations. He asked one of his staff to bring us a cup of coffee, which I sipped as we talked. I was only a bit into it when I realized he was anxiously awaiting my feedback on their roast! It was a tasty cup and I complimented him on the execution, mentioning that I like dry process coffees, especially Ethiopia’s, which I assumed it was. He looked at me blankly and told me it was a washed coffee.

“Oh,” I responded.

Later, when I was distracted talking to another team member, he slipped off for a minute. When he rejoined us, he said he had discovered the coffee we were drinking was, in fact, a dry process Ethiopian.

Of course it was.

Knowing Processes. As a roaster or avid coffee drinker, a better understanding of green coffee bean processing will help you tune your expectations of coffee processed in a particular way, as well as understanding more about what you prefer and don’t prefer (and why). For example, Carson loves dry process coffees; Someone I’m married to can’t stand them. This is useful knowledge.

Over the next several installments of our weekly two minute tips, we will unpack the main methods of processing green coffee beans during harvest. In this intro post, we provide a high-level commentary of processing and some reasons it’s important for a roaster to understand the various methods. The final post will outline the common steps that a coffee cherry goes through before being loaded on a cargo ship, regardless of method. Have you heard of the parchment stage?

As we dig more deeply into each method, we will not only look at the mechanics of each process, but also provide some insights into how that process can affect coffee bean flavor and overall makeup of the bean (body, acidity, etc.). As you improve your understanding of these unique processes, it’s not too much of a stretch to visualize how the various methods influence things.

The next two posts will cover washed and natural processes, respectively, as these are radically different and help put the other methods in a more understandable context. Especially since, in some ways, the other methods are hybrids or departures of these two.

Process is Story. The first thing to know about processing coffee is that for the most part, all these methods are used in particular areas because of what is available and what has been the long-time practice. In a way, processing methods are an embedded part of a coffee’s “growing climate.” While different methods do affect a coffee’s taste, that has not really been the driving theme for why a farmer chooses which method they will use. If water is a scarce resource in a certain farming region, the Washed Process is a non-starter simply because of the amount of precious water required. Knowing processes is fundamental to understanding a coffee’s story.

Farmers, however, have become masters of their particular process in two main ways: First, because they need to earn a living they have traditionally focused on the output of saleable coffee — maximizing plant yield and minimizing defects. In recent years, because of the growing premium/specialty market for top-shelf beans, farmers are increasingly learning how to leverage their processes to improve cup quality as well.

Because of better cooperation and knowledge sharing between growers and roasters, top-tier coffee has literally never been better than it is today. And as a buyer of green coffee, your preferences are integrated into this market feedback loop that continues to raise the bar.

Next week. We will dive into the Washed Process! So-to-speak.

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