Coffee Q&A: Processing

This is quickly becoming my favorite part of the week! I love answering your coffee questions, so keep them rolling in! This week our question comes from a regular and concerns a coffee topic I was actually not too familiar with until recently: Processing.

“Hi! I noticed on my bags of coffee at home that one says ‘washed’ the other says ‘unwashed’ what does this mean? Is the unwashed coffee dirty?” 

Wow, this is a great question, actually. To answer it simply: No, unwashed coffee is not dirty.

The terms “washed” and “unwashed” are actually referring to the way the coffee is processed. You see, when coffee beans are grown and harvested, they are actually in these beautiful bright red cherries. But, as you know, we’re not drinking these cherries (unless you’re a Cascara drinker). So the beans have to come out somehow. How and when the beans come out of the cherry and are dried is called the processing. Washed and Unwashed are two types of processing. Today, I’m going to explain what happens during each of these processing methods, and in a future blog post, I will talk about how coffee processing effects taste, so stay tuned!


First I want you to examine this cross-section of a coffee cherry. As you can see here, there are a lot of things surrounding the actual bean. Most of this has to come off! How are we going to do that?

The Washed Process

So, let’s pretend we’re coffee farmers. We have harvested and sorted our coffee cherries and we’ve decided we’re going to use the Wet Process (aka the washed process) for our beans.

The first thing we’re going to do is put the beans through a de-pulping machine. This machine will remove the skin and some of the fruit of the cherry, and we will be left with the seeds inside. Which will still be surrounded by some of the leftover cherry fruit or mucilage. This also needs to be removed so we will ferment the beans in water for about 30 hours and then wash the beans with clean water. Now, the beans are free of mucilage.

Now, our coffee beans are ready to be dried. Usually, the beans are laid in special drying trays out in the sun for at least 7 days. During this turned, the beans must be occasionally turned or raked to avoid further fermentation and to promote even drying. Now, the beans are ready to be bagged, stored, shipped, and distributed!

Unwashed Process

The unwashed, dry, or natural process is a little different. The beans are grown, harvested and sorted, but now we deviate. Instead of pulping the cherries to remove the beans, we are actually going to leave them in the cherry. We’re going to use our special drying trays and leave the cherries intact in the trays to dry in the sun. The cherries are considered dry when they turn from bright red to brown. This process could take weeks, and the beans must be raked or turned regularly to dry evenly. And as you can imagine, a rainy or even overcast day can really slow down this process.

When the cherries are finally dry, we have to remove the dried cherry from the dried bean. This is done in a process called hulling. Essentially, in this step, friction is used to remove all the dried fruit from the bean. Then the bean is ready!

Seems Clear?

No? Well, that’s okay! It has honestly taken me months to wrap my head around the different processing methods, and this has been an extremely basic overview of the processing differences. The good news is that this question has inspired me to write future posts about processing in detail! This is truly an arduous process, but it is so vital to the taste at the end of the day! So stay tuned to our blog to learn more!

So what do you think? Which process would you rather try if you were a farmer? Do you have any coffee questions to ask! Drop a comment here or on our Instagram @black_river_roasters! And stay tuned for more answers next week!


This entry was posted in Coffee Info / Education, Coffee Q&A and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.