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Coffee Processing

Processing the Cherries

Once the coffee has been picked, processing must begin as quickly as possible to  prevent spoilage.  Depending on location and local resources, coffee is processed in  one of two ways.

The Dry Method    

This is the age-old method of processing coffee and is still used in many countries  where water resources are limited. The freshly picked cherries are simply spread  out on huge surfaces to dry in the sun. In order to prevent the cherries from  spoiling, they are raked and turned throughout the day, then covered at night, or if  it rains, to prevent them from getting wet. Depending on the weather, this process  might continue for several weeks for each batch of coffee. When the moisture  content of the cherries drops to 11 percent, the dried cherries are moved to  warehouses where they are stored             

The Wet Method

In wet method processing, the pulp is removed from the coffee cherry after  harvesting and the bean is dried with only the parchment skin left on.  There are  several actual steps involved. First, the freshly harvested cherries are passed  through a pulping machine where the skin and pulp is separated from the bean.  The pulp is washed away with water, usually to be dried and used as mulch. The  beans are separated by weight as they are conveyed through water channels, the  lighter beans floating to the top, while the heavier, ripe beans sink to the bottom.

Next they are passed through a series of rotating drums which separate them by size.

After separation, the beans are transported to large, water-filled fermentation tanks. Depending on a combination of factors -- such as the condition of the beans, the climate and the altitude -- they will remain in these tanks for anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. The purpose of this process is to remove the slick layer of mucilage (called the parenchyma) that is still attached to the parchment; while resting in the tanks, naturally occurring enzymes will cause this layer to dissolve. When fermentation is complete the beans will feel rough, rather than slick, to the touch.  At that precise moment, the beans are rinsed by being sent through additional water channels.  They are then ready for drying.

Drying the Beans

If the beans have been processed by the wet method, the pulped and fermented  beans must now be dried to approximately 11 percent moisture to properly prepare  them for storage.  These beans, still encased inside the parchment envelope (the  endocarp), can be sun dried by spreading them on drying tables or floors, where  they are turned regularly, or they can be machine dried in large tumblers.  Once  dried, these beans, referred to as 'parchment coffee,' are warehoused in sisal  or jute bags until they are readied for export.     

Milling the Beans

Before it is exported, parchment coffee is processed in the following manner:

 - Machines are used to remove the parchment layer (endocarp) from wet processed coffee.  Hulling dry processed coffee refers to removing the entire dried husk -- the exocarp, mesocarp & endocarp -- of the dried cherries.

 - This is an optional process in which any silver skin that remains on the beans after hulling is removed in a polishing machine. While polished beans are considered superior to unpolished ones, in reality there is little difference between the two.

Grading & Sorting - 
Before being exported, the coffee beans will be even more precisely sorted by size and weight. They will also be closely evaluated for color flaws or other imperfections.

Typically, the bean size is represented on a scale of 10 to 20. The number represents the size of a round hole's diameter in terms of 1/64's of an inch. A number 10 bean would be the approximate size of a hole in a diameter of 10/64 of an inch and a number 15 bean, 15/64 of an inch. Beans are sized by being passed through a series of different sized screens. They are also sorted pneumatically by using an air jet to separate heavy from light beans.

Next defective beans are removed.  Though this process can be accomplished by sophisticated machines, in many countries, it is done by hand while the beans move along an electronic conveyor belt.  Beans of unsatisfactory size, color, or that are otherwise unacceptable, are removed. This might include over-fermented beans, those with insect damage or that are unhulled. In many countries, this process is done both by machine and hand, insuring that only the finest quality coffee beans are exported                    

Exporting the Beans

The milled beans, now referred to as 'green coffee,' are ready to be loaded onto  ships for transport to the importing country.  Green coffee is shipped in either jute  or sisal bags which are loaded into shipping containers, or it is bulk shipped inside  plastic-lined containers. Approximately seven million tons of green coffee is  produced worldwide each year.

Roasting the Coffee

Roasting transforms green coffee into the aromatic brown beans that we purchase,  either whole or already ground, in our favorite stores. Most roasting machines  maintain a temperature of about 550 degrees Fahrenheit.  The beans are kept  moving throughout the entire process to keep them from burning and when they  reach an internal temperature of about 400 degrees, they begin to turn brown and  the caffeol, or oil, locked inside the beans begins to emerge.      

This process, called pyrolysis is at the heart of roasting.  It is what produces the  flavor and aroma of the coffee we drink.  When the beans are removed from the  roaster, they are immediately cooled either by air or water. Roasting is generally  performed in the importing countries because freshly roasted beans must reach  the consumer as quickly as possible

© Vinabarista 2013