How Does Processing Method Affect Coffee Taste?


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The coffee processing method is one of the most critical operations in the journey of your cup. It’s indeed considered by the specialty coffee industry as the most significant contributor to coffee’s flavor profile, whereas the microclimate and soil condition is the next largest contributor. 

But how does a processing method really affect the taste of your coffee? In this article, we’ll provide a basic understanding of how a particular processing technique impacts the taste of your brew. It’s also important to know the relation of it to roasting and brewing. And after all, we should know why those processes matter. 

Focus how does processing method impact coffee taste

A Brief Introduction to the Main Types of Coffee Processing

Although nowadays, there are many innovations around the world with the help of science and technology, the traditional ways are still practiced to achieve a coffee of high quality.

There are different techniques for processing coffee, and it varies by country and region. But still, coffee is generally processed by the natural method or the washed method.

Dry Method – It is known as the dry process since it involves the drying of the whole coffee cherry, usually under the sun or through a mechanical drier. The coffee bean is dried first inside the entire fruit to 12% moisture before revealing the green beans out of the hulling machine. 

Although it’s a straightforward technique to process the coffee cherry, this treatment is sometimes not recommended as it may result in a low-quality coffee. 

But in my opinion, it depends. Low quality coffee is sometimes associated with dry method because of the poor practices that often happen in the production. For example, in the dry approach, all types of coffee cherry are suited in it, even those pre-dominant ripe or unripe fruits. That means if the final product is a mixture of ripe and unripe cherries, then expect it to offer a low quality taste.

dry processed coffee
Drying the Coffee Cherries

Wet Method – The wet method involves fermentation or any damp process such as washing the beans once the cherries’ layers are removed. It generates parchment coffee, a seed that is enclosed in the inner integument or endocarp.

  • Fermentation – After the parchments are extracted, the beans go through fermentation to break or remove the mucilage (the gluey and sticky texture of the fruit). The process is intended to digest the mucilage by soaking the coffee beans in water, and allowing its eradication by simply washing. A mechanical demucilager can replace the fermentation process to remove the mucilage by friction.

Washed method is generally the best when it comes to specialty coffee. I think that is because only the ripest cherries are suited in it. The ripe the fruit is, the better the flavor is. However, there’s more than to that! Read more to find out!

Honey Process – It’s called the honey process because of the beans’ smell and color that resemble honey. It’s usually done by depulping the ripe cherries and removing the outer skin right away.

That will result in beans (with the endocarp and mucilage still attached) that are left fermented and dried to 11-12% of moisture level. But this time, the mucilage isn’t washed away.

Roasting – Once the fresh coffee cherries are transformed into green bean coffee beans, they are ready for exporting or roasting. Roasting involves heat treatment that produces integral chemical and physical changes in green coffee’s structure and composition. Sometimes you can see it in color preference, bringing about the darkening of the beans as well as the development of the flavor profile of roasted coffee.

Do All Methods Taste The Same?

Each method of coffee processing has a unique approach on how it operates. Also, different methods produce different finished products in terms of quality.

Washed coffee is known to have fruity and delicate flavors, including intense aromas that contribute to its complexity. On the other hand, naturally (dry method) processed beans give a heavy body coffee and offer a sweeter flavor than washed coffee.

Honey processed coffees are in between. Sometimes you can taste the clarity of coffee with a little bit of acidity. But due to the mucilage, honey processed coffees also have a heavier body and a more sweeter flavor than washed ones.

So, in conclusion, NOT all methods taste the same. Indeed, choosing the right processing method has an enormous impact on the coffee’s final taste.

But what makes it essential, and why each method tastes differently? Read more on this article.

Why Does Coffee Processing Matter?

As highlighted above, it’s indeed essential to know how the coffee beans were processed. The processing methods have a considerable impact on the coffee’s flavor profile. And choosing the right approach can be a binding decision for coffee farmers or producers as it requires investment, resources, and time to bring out the best in coffee.

Nowadays, roasters and baristas are more focused on coffee processing to perceive what a high-quality coffee is.

I came across an article from the Perfect Daily Grind. Adrian Vocalan, the National Barista Champion, won the Philippine National Coffee Competition (PNCC) using a local coffee – an experimentally-processed Typica from Itogon, Benguet. 

But what’s interesting is that they processed their competition-winning coffee in a very special way that gave the coffee a nice flavor and frothy mouthfeel that is not frequently sampled.

From an interview by the Perfect Daily Grind to Michael Harris Conlin, the 2019 Philippine National Barista Champion and part of the team that sourced Adrian’s winning coffee, Michael says that what makes their coffee unique is about the way it was processed. Whereas they used carbonic maceration and yeast from kombucha grown in a lab. 

With that being said, in the Specialty Coffee Industry, what determines the value of coffee is not the type of beans, but the process.

But it also involves the aspect of coffee production, harvesting practices, processing method, and roasting that contribute to the coffee’s overall quality.

All these factors are essential, but we can’t ignore that the processing method is the most crucial operation. Besides, even if the fully ripened cherry was picked perfectly, insufficient coffee processing knowledge can still lead to defects that degrade the quality of the brew you drink every day.

For example, if the coffee is overdried, it will become brittle, and if the coffee has not been dried enough, it will deteriorate.

The Relation of Processing to Roasting

Focus how does processing method impact coffee taste
Dried Green Coffee Beans

Let’s take a look at the processing method, roast degree, and brewing technique.

To obtain your favorite coffee, you need to choose a processing method that provides the flavor you want. Then, of course, a roast degree that matches it to develop the flavors and aromas effectively. And when it comes to the brewing process, choose the best-recommended method for the type of roast.

As you can see, they are all connected, and it’s all down to preparation to bring out the best in your coffee.

Here’s an example. If you’re looking for a coffee that offers a fruity flavor and clean cup, choose beans processed in the washed method since this is the best in terms of clarity.

But after that, the problem now is how are the beans should be roasted to preserve your cup’s clarity. So, in this case, I prefer the beans to be roasted lightly in order to allow and taste all the nuances of the origin and variety of coffee.

Okay, sure, but why should they match and synchronize with each other? 

Roasting is the result of several components’ reactions. One of them (the volatile component) contributes mainly to the full development of aroma. Simultaneously, the other one (non-volatile compound) attributes to the enhancements of flavor through the combination of heat, time, and patience.

It means roasting is where you control these reactions as it can either make or break the coffee flavor.

With that being said, the choice of processing method impacts the amount of these chemical components present in the green beans, which are crucial and should be considered before making it to the roaster.

Also, the method at which the beans were processed is very useful for roasters and baristas to showcase what a coffee is and what its tastes like.

How Does Processing Impact the Coffee Taste?

honey processes coffee
Honey-Processed Coffee Beans

Since a coffee cherry is made up of several layers, including skin, mucilage, and parchment, the processing is a method that involves removing all these layers that surround the coffee bean.

Once the coffee cherry was picked perfectly ripe, the coffee beans can be extracted from the pulp and skin using any of these approaches: Natural, Wash, and Honey processing methods.

These different processing methods produce various products in terms of cup quality. Each technique can exceptionally influence your coffee. 

But how does it really impact the taste of your brew?

The elements surrounding the coffee bean, such as the pulp and mucilage, contain many sugars. And aside from separating the bean from the coffee cherry, another goal of the processing method is to preserve the fruit’s natural sugar or develop a more superior flavor that contributes to higher cup quality.

During post-harvest operation, distinct metabolic changes occur inside the coffee seeds, which naturally alter the green beans’ chemical composition. In other words, this treatment creates various reactions that either retain or improve the natural cupping notes of coffee.

Let’s take a look at how you marinate meat for example. The general process of marination is soaking the food in a seasoned liquid before cooking. Also, there are several techniques on how to do it to enhance the meat. And behind that process, depending on the procedure is a convinced reaction that tenderizes and flavors the meat.

The same concept applies to coffee processing since it also involves fermentation, drying and so on.

For example, those unwashed coffees such as natural or honey processed beans are known to have higher sugar levels significantly. That is because the beans are fermented without washing the mucilage (the mucilage contains high amount of sugar), whereas the sugars in it penetrate the beans, which increases the sweetness and body of the coffee.

On the other hand, washed coffee beans have low sugar levels since all the mucilage around the coffee seeds were removed prior to drying. Its natural enzymes break down the mucilage during the fermentation that makes it easy to wash away. And as the mucilage are gone, the beans’ sugars also degrade and frequently create delicate and soothing aromatics.

So, the final product of washed method offers less sweet flavor than the other two. But still, the reason why many producers prefer this method is because of its more fruity and floral qualities that are associated with a clean cup.

FQs

What’s the Best Processing Method?

Our coffee taste preferences are very subjective, and it’s tough to choose what’s best as all of the methods provide distinct and unique flavors in different ways.

Some people love the sweet taste of a honey processed coffee, while other coffee lovers prefer the clarity of a washed coffee.

But then again, the best way to figure out which gives you the best flavor is to understand and learn these methods and explore what each of them can offer. In that case, you already have a rough guide to the taste you expect.

Can I taste the Honey Flavor in a Honey-Processed Coffee?

Although there is no honey added in the process, sure, you can sometimes taste a honey-like flavor in your coffee if done right.

But most of the time, the intense sweetness and complex mouthfeel are the flavors that stand the most, as you might think that someone has put brown sugar in your cup.

As highlighted above, there’s no really honey involved. That term actually comes from the smell, color, and how sticky the beans are, which resembles a honey’s perception.

Conclusion

There you have it! However, these are only the basic observations behind the processing of the coffee you brew every day. There are probably many scientific explanations about it that need a more in-depth understanding.  

But one thing for sure, from the very start, the processing is the first thing that influences the way your coffee taste before roasting and brewing take place. And in the end, it’s best to identify the process at which your coffee beans are prepared.

The processing method where the beans went through has a significant impact on your coffee’s sensory quality. In fact, when you’re delving into it, you’re not just choosing the right coffee that suits your preference, but you’re also gaining knowledge and details about it.

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