Two billion cups of coffee are brewed and consumed each day. This makes it the most popular drink (after water) worldwide.
The majority of coffee drinkers in the United States drink a little more than 3 cups per day, with 7 out of 10 Americans enjoying a cup of Joe at least once a week.
All in all, that’s a lot of demand for such a small bean.
But that robust brown bean doesn’t start that way, and wet-processed coffee is one way that the product gets to your grinder.
Of the three main types of processing methods — wet, dry, and honey — wet is the most common for high-end beans. Wet processing ensures a clean, depulped bean, where fermentation is stopped at the correct time and where the bean’s flavor retains its unique flavors.
In the following article, we’ll explore how washed coffee gets from the bush to your table.
Why Process Coffee?
The brown coffee bean, as you think of it, actually starts as a cherry-like fruit. This fruit is picked by hand and transported to a coffee mill.
Many factors will impact how coffee tastes but one of the most important of these is how it is turned from a cherry to a dried bean.
Other factors that play a role include the variety of bean, how you roast it, and how your brew the coffee. The best coffee is often washed because the tight controls ensure a more consistent product time after time.
This process requires special equipment and large quantities of water. The first step is to place the cherry-like fruit into a vat to wash and sort the product.
This removes any impurities like dirt, mud, twigs, and insects. Also, if the coffee is over-ripe, it will float to the top. The coffee that is ready for the mill will drop to the bottom of the vat.
Pulping the Beans
Once the unusable beans and the impurities are removed, you run the beans through a depulper machine. This removes the outer flesh and skin around the pit of the coffee fruit.
The depulper also sorts the cherries by size. The bigger beans are often more sought after, and connoisseurs consider them more high quality. The cherries are likely to go through this process more than once until they end up in a large vat for further fermentation.
The fermentation process helps break down any of the last unwanted pulp or mucilage. Finally, the water is drained from the vat, and further fermentation can last up to 48 hours.
When the fermentation is complete, and the final pulp washed away, the beans need to dry.
Sun or Machine Drying?
The beans are either dried by a machine or spread out in the sun. Opinions vary about which is the best method, but some say sun-drying, although inexact is the natural way to dry the beans and shows the artisanal skills of the coffee mill.
Machine drying means the beans are placed in a dryer and steadily dried at a constant temperature. This can take 2 or 3 days at about 120 degrees.
When dried, the bean you buy from the mill is actually white or green, not the rich dark bean you purchase from specialty stores like ictcoffee.com.
The Final Product
Wet-processed coffee requires the beans to sit for 20 to 30 days. This hardens the cell structure. You then buy the beans wholesale, and the roasting process can begin.
You’ll find many of the finest coffees, including Arabica, Typica, and Bourbon, milled through this method and then roasted to perfection by a company near you.
And although it’s time-consuming, the wet method makes sure you have a cup of coffee that is consistent and free of impurities.
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