Most know, coffee begins its life as the seed of the coffee fruit. While this is common knowledge for a great number of people, the average coffee drinker is not typically aware of the steps and processes that occur between the plucking of the ripe coffee cherry and the steaming cup of coffee that greets them every morning.
Three Methods for Processing Geisha
There are three methods used by growers around the world to process coffee and each of these processing methods are key for defining the ultimate cup profile.
While we illustrate the drying methods employed by Finca Deborah on our website, for those who would like a little more detailed information regarding the established drying methods, we’ve elected to expand those ideas in this forum.
Wet or Washed Method
This is the most common processing method and is often used by large-scale growers in many parts of the world, especially those growing Arabica coffees. Brazil is widely regarded as the exception to this rule as up to 90% of its Arabica is not wet processed.
The washed method begins with the freshly harvested cherries and, in many cases, are placed in vats of water to sort the ripe cherries from the unripe. The denser, more desirable beans sink to the bottom of the vat and in many cases specialized screens are employed to further segregate the cherries. Once sorted the cherries move to a pulping mill where the fruit is mechanically separated from the beans. This may require further steps to ensure that every trace of pulp has been removed, which often involves the use of vibrating screens. The layer of mucilage is left intact and the beans move on to the next stage.
To remove the mucilage layer the beans are then fermented in large tanks of water. Natural enzymes are responsible for the breaking down of the mucilage, and after approximately 30 hours the mucilage can be washed away. The fermentation stage needs to be monitored carefully to prevent the coffee from souring and taking on unpleasant flavors and aromas. When the coffee beans release the slimy feel, characteristic of the mucilage, the batch is ready to move on to the next step.
The coffee is then washed again and placed to dry on standard raised beds, patio, or in a mechanical dryer. The time involved in this portion of the process varies due to factors such as season and humidity.
Wet mill Technology has advanced in recent years and it is now possible to remove both the cherry of the coffee fruit as well as the mucilage in one mechanical process using low water consumption mills. This allows the coffee to be processed more quickly and evenly as the fermentation process has been eliminated. Many farmers are choosing this technology over traditional fermentation because of the reduction in risk fermentation can create. The beans can now go directly to the patio or dryer without fermentation.
Some experts believe that the wet method using fermentation produces a superior end result should all of the steps are done properly. However, due to the large-scale machinery that is necessary and the high amount of water that is required, this process is not viable for growers in dry areas, or for growers who are conscious of their water usage.
The natural method is one preferred by growers in most coffee producing regions of the world. It requires less machinery, no water, and harkens back to the days when coffee was originally grown and harvested in Ethiopia.
The harvested cherries are sorted for ripeness and cleaned to remove any dirt, stones, or twigs that might have collected during picking. This process can be done by hand, although, in most cases, sorting by flotation in a water tank is implemented.
The cherries are then spread on drying racks or African beds and left in the sun. Careful turning and spreading must take place to ensure that each coffee cherry dries evenly. Depending on the local weather this drying process can take up to four weeks to achieve the desired humidity level of 10 to 12%. Some plantations will supplement the sun drying process with mechanical dryers to achieve the required humidity levels at a quicker pace and with a more controlled outcome.
The cherries must be monitored carefully as they dry to prevent over-drying. Over-dried beans become brittle and may break, which renders them unfit for sale. Coffee that has not been dried adequately may fall prey to various bacteria and fungi that thrive on the damp beans. After the cherries are dried to the correct humidity level they are stored and rested up to 90 days until hulling.
Finca Deborah employs this natural method of processing and it aligns with our commitment to sustainable coffee production. We believe that this manner of processing results in an exquisite Panama Geisha and an exceptional cup profile.
Honey or Semi Washed Method
Almost a perfect combination of the above two processes, honey, or semi washed coffee, is a method that is gaining traction among coffee growers around the world. The coffee cherries are pulped, but they are not washed of their mucilage. In some rare cases the cherries may be partially fermented, but as long as a portion of the mucilage remains the coffee is still referred to as semi washed, or honey processed.
The coffee is then dried in the sun for the time required to achieve the desired humidity, typically ten days. The coffee is carefully raked and turned to ensure that it dries evenly. Mechanical dryers are almost never used in this process as the sticky mucilage can foul the equipment. Once the proper drying has taken place the mucilage retracts into the bean and leaves a coating that is akin to caramel. The coffee is left to rest in its parchment until it is ready to be shipped to roasters.
At Finca Deborah, our Geisha is processed using all the methods. We believe our Geisha should be enjoyed by everyone regardless of one’s preference for processing. Although this requires more labor, more attention, and greater costs on our end, we believe it’s worth it to satisfy our very particular clientele.