Regardless of the type, all coffee beans are processed or washed to remove the remaining mucilage around the bean before it is roasted and ready for consumption.
There are three main ways to process coffee which may affect the flavor of coffee, namely:
Natural or dry process: This is the most ideal and traditional way of processing coffee, but it requires a lot of time. Whole berries, with all of its components, are dried under the sun. Natural fermentation occurs, which creates a mix of complex fruity flavors and sugars.
Washed coffee: This method is common, quicker, and ideal for areas with a consistent water supply. Mucollage around the coffee bean is fully removed and rinsed with water. The beans are fermented for 12 to 72 hours before being washed clean of anything other than the bean itself and then dried. Coffee beans that went through the washed process usually have a bright, clean taste.
Honey process or semi-wash: The honey process is a hybrid that combines both said techniques in processing coffee. Fresh coffee cherries are opened, de-pulped, and dried under the sun leaving golden and sticky mucilage, which resembles honey, thus its name. Honey-processed coffees tend to be more complex than their washed counterparts, but not as fruity as naturally-dried coffee.
This appeared as a sidebar in Agriculture Monthly’s December 2019 issue.