Processing Methods of Coffee: From Natural to Washed and Honey

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A woman is using processing methods to prepare coffee beans in a coffee shop.
Table of Contents
A woman is using processing methods to prepare coffee beans in a coffee shop.

Key Takeaways:

  • Coffee processing methods, including natural (dry), washed (wet), and honey processed, significantly impact the flavor of coffee beans.
  • Natural processing retains the fruit layer during drying, resulting in richly flavored coffee with fruity undertones and full-bodied sweetness.
  • Washed processing involves removing all layers of the cherry before drying, producing a cleaner and more consistent cup with balanced flavors.
  • Honey processing leaves some fruit mucilage on the beans during drying, creating distinctive flavor profiles that bridge the gap between washed and natural coffees.

Processing Methods of Coffee

Natural processing involves allowing the coffee cherries to dry with the fruit still intact before removing it, resulting in a bold and fruity flavor profile.

Washed processing involves removing the cherry pulp before fermenting and washing the beans, producing a cleaner taste.

Honey processing is a hybrid method that removes some but not all of the cherry pulp, resulting in varying degrees of sweetness.

Did you know that each method used by farmers and producers significantly alters the overall flavor profile of your favorite brew? In this guide, we’ll break down these complex procedures into digestible information, ensuring that you fully grasp how your morning cup goes from farm to table.

Let’s dive in to learn how beans are processed naturally, washed or honeyed – and why it matters!

Understanding Coffee Processing Methods

Coffee processing methods are crucial in determining the flavor and characteristics of the final cup, with three main methods: natural (dry), washed (wet), and honey processed.

Natural (Dry) Process

Natural coffee processing is a time-tested method, deeply rooted in tradition. This technique entails drying the entire coffee cherry with its fruit layer intact. As one of the oldest methods of preparing coffee beans, it imparts unique flavors highly appreciated by discerning palates across the globe.

This process allows natural sugars to ferment and infuse into the beans during a prolonged period under the sun. Unlike other methods, natural processing doesn’t remove layers from coffee cherries before drying begins — instead, they dry as whole fruits on raised beds or patios for several weeks.

The result? Richly flavored coffee defined by fruity undertones and full-bodied sweetness that make every sip an extraordinary experience.

Washed (Wet) Process

The washed (wet) process is the most commonly used method for processing coffee beans. It involves removing all layers of the coffee cherry before drying the beans. The first step in this process is to harvest and sort the cherries, ensuring that only ripe ones are selected.

Then, the cherries are depulped, where a machine strips away the outer skin and pulp from each bean. Next comes fermentation, where the beans are soaked in water for a specific period of time to remove any remaining mucilage or sticky residue.

After fermentation, thorough washing takes place to ensure that all traces of mucilage are gone. Finally, the wet beans are dried either in sunlight or using mechanical dryers until they reach an optimal moisture content for storage and transportation.

The washed process has several advantages over other methods. Firstly it tends to produce a cleaner and more consistent cup of coffee with balanced flavors since all layers of the cherry have been removed during processing.

Honey (Pulped Natural) Process

The honey (pulped natural) process is a coffee processing method that falls between the washed and natural methods. During this process, some of the fruit mucilage is left on the beans as they are dried.

This allows for fermentation to occur, giving the coffee unique flavors and characteristics.

Unlike washed coffee where all layers of the cherry are removed before drying, in honey processing, only part of the cherry pulp is taken off. The remaining mucilage acts as a protective layer during drying, which can range from light to heavy depending on how much fruit is left on the bean.

This results in a wide spectrum of flavors, with lighter honey processed coffees having more clarity and acidity while darker ones exhibit deeper sweetness and body.

The honey process has gained popularity among specialty coffee lovers due to its ability to create distinctive flavor profiles that bridge the gap between washed and natural coffees. It offers an exciting alternative for farmers who want to experiment with different levels of fermentation while still maintaining some control over consistency.

How Processing Methods Impact Coffee Flavor

Processing methods have a significant impact on the flavor of coffee, with each method resulting in distinct flavor profiles that appeal to different taste preferences.

Differences in flavor profiles

Each coffee processing method imparts its unique flavor attributes to the beans. The differences in flavor profiles among Washed, Natural, and Honey processed coffee are quite significant, and they can greatly alter your coffee drinking experience.

Here’s a snapshot of the typical flavor profiles resulting from each of these processing methods:

Processing MethodTypical Flavor Profiles
Washed (Wet) ProcessThis method often results in a coffee that is clean, bright, and fruity. The flavor profile of washed coffee is generally more consistent and familiar to most people.
Natural (Dry) ProcessWith the Natural process, the coffee tends to have a fuller body and often displays intense, exotic fruit flavors. Natural coffee processing involves drying the coffee cherries with the fruit still intact, which allows the natural sugars to ferment and infuse into the beans.
Honey (Pulped Natural) ProcessHoney processed coffee often lies in the middle ground in terms of body and acidity, featuring sweet, complex flavors with a smooth, honey-like mouthfeel. Some of the fruit mucilage is left on the beans during drying, which attributes to its unique taste.

These are general patterns and real-world results can vary based on a range of factors such as the coffee variety, terroir, and specific processing practices.

Factors influencing flavor development

Flavor development in coffee is influenced by various factors, including:

  1. Coffee Variety: Different coffee varieties have distinct flavor profiles, with some being more floral, fruity, or nutty. The inherent characteristics of the coffee variety impact the flavor outcome.
  2. Growing Altitude: The altitude at which coffee is grown affects its flavor. Higher altitudes typically result in a slower growth process and denser beans, leading to more complex flavors.
  3. Climate and Weather: The climate and weather conditions during coffee cultivation play a significant role in flavor development. Factors such as temperature, rainfall, and sunlight exposure can influence the sweetness, acidity, and body of the beans.
  4. Soil Composition: The composition of the soil in which coffee plants grow affects the uptake of nutrients by the roots. The minerals present in the soil can contribute to distinctive flavors in the harvested beans.
  5. Ripeness at Harvest: The level of ripeness at which coffee cherries are harvested impacts their flavor profile. Overripe or underripe cherries may result in off-flavors or less developed tastes.
  6. Processing Method: As discussed earlier, different processing methods (washed, natural, honey) impart unique flavors to coffee beans due to variations in fermentation and drying processes.
  7. Fermentation Duration: The duration of fermentation during processing affects flavor intensity and complexity. Longer fermentations can enhance fruitiness but may also introduce fermented or sour notes if not properly controlled.
  8. Drying Conditions: How coffee beans are dried after fermentation can influence their flavor development significantly. Variables such as sun drying or mechanical drying methods impact the final cup’s taste.
  9. Roasting Technique: Although primarily related to post-processing steps, roasting plays a vital role in extracting desired flavors from coffee beans and developing nuances like caramelization or acidity levels.
  10. Storage Conditions: After processing and roasting, storage conditions become critical for preserving optimal flavors in roasted beans or ground coffee. Factors such as moisture, oxygen exposure, and temperature stability can affect taste over time.

The Process of Coffee Bean Processing

Coffee bean processing involves several steps, including harvesting and sorting, depulping and fermentation, and washing and drying the beans.

Harvesting and sorting

Harvesting and sorting coffee beans is the first step in the coffee processing journey. Here is a breakdown of how this process takes place:

  1. Coffee cherries are hand-picked when they reach their optimal ripeness. This ensures that only the best-quality cherries are selected for further processing.
  2. Harvesters carefully inspect each cherry to ensure that it meets the desired standards. Overripe or underripe cherries are discarded.
  3. Once harvested, the coffee cherries are sorted based on their size, color, and overall quality. This helps to separate the ripest and highest-quality cherries from those that may be damaged or defective.
  4. Sorting can be done manually or mechanically, depending on the scale of production and available resources. Manual sorting allows for greater precision, but mechanical sorting can be more efficient for larger volumes.
  5. After sorting, the coffee cherries are ready to undergo further processing based on the chosen method: natural, washed, or honey.

Depulping and fermentation

Depulping and fermentation are two steps in the coffee bean processing journey. Here is a breakdown of these processes:

  1. Depulping: After the coffee cherries are harvested, they undergo depulping, which involves removing the skin and pulp from the beans. This can be done using machines or traditional methods like pulpers or fermentation tanks.
  2. Fermentation: Once depulping is complete, the beans are transferred to fermentation tanks or bins. During fermentation, natural enzymes break down the remaining mucilage or sticky substance that may still be attached to the beans.

Washing and drying

After the coffee cherries have been depulped and fermented, they go through the washing and drying process. Here’s how it works:

  • The washed coffee beans are transferred to large tanks or channels filled with water.
  • They are vigorously agitated to remove any remaining mucilage attached to the beans.
  • The beans are then separated from the water using filters or screens.
  • To ensure proper fermentation is complete, the washed beans are dried on raised beds or patios, under the sun or using mechanical dryers.
  • The drying process can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on weather conditions and desired moisture content.
  • During drying, the beans are regularly turned to ensure even and consistent drying.
  • Once the desired moisture level is reached (around 10-12%), the beans are removed from drying beds or patios.

Choosing the Right Coffee Processing Method

Considerations for farmers and producers when selecting a coffee processing method, as well as factors to consider for coffee drinkers. Discover how each method can impact the flavor and characteristics of your cup of joe.

Considerations for farmers and producers

  • Coffee processing method should be chosen based on the specific characteristics of the coffee variety and the desired flavor profile.
  • Farmers and producers need to consider the local climate and weather conditions, as certain processing methods may be more suitable in different environments.
  • The availability of water resources is an important factor to consider, as washed processing requires a significant amount of water for fermentation and washing.
  • Time constraints should also be taken into account, as certain methods may require longer drying times or additional labor-intensive processes.
  • The cost of equipment and infrastructure needed for each processing method should be considered, as some methods may require more investment than others.
  • Farmers and producers need to assess market demand and consumer preferences, as certain processing methods may be more popular or in demand in specific regions or among specialty coffee enthusiasts.
  • Environmental sustainability is an important consideration, with some processing methods having a smaller ecological footprint than others.
  • Ensure consistency and quality control throughout the entire coffee processing chain to maintain a strong reputation in the market.

Factors to consider for coffee drinkers

When choosing the right coffee processing method, there are several factors that coffee drinkers should consider. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  1. Flavor preference: Different processing methods produce distinct flavor profiles in coffee beans. If you prefer a more fruity and vibrant taste, natural processed coffees may be your go-to choice. If you enjoy cleaner and brighter flavors, washed processed coffees might suit your palate better.
  2. Consistency: Washed coffee processing is known for producing a more consistent flavor profile compared to natural processing. If you appreciate consistency and want to know what to expect from your cup of coffee each time, opt for washed processed beans.
  3. Acidity levels: The processing method can impact the acidity levels of coffee. Washed coffees often exhibit brighter acidity, while natural processed coffees tend to have lower acidity with fruitier undertones. Consider your preference for acidity when selecting your preferred processing method.
  4. Complexity: Honey processed coffees can offer a unique complexity in flavor, as they retain some of the fruit mucilage during drying. If you enjoy layered and nuanced tasting experiences, honey processed beans might be worth exploring.
  5. Roast level compatibility: Certain processing methods may pair better with specific roast levels. Natural processed coffees generally handle darker roasts well due to their inherent sweetness and body retention throughout the process.
  6. Environmental impact: For environmentally conscious coffee drinkers, consider sustainable processing methods that minimize water usage and waste generation. Washed processed coffees typically require more water during production compared to natural or honey processed varieties.
  7. Specialty versus commercial-grade: If you’re seeking out specialty-grade coffees known for their unique flavors and high-quality standards, exploring different processing methods can lead you to exceptional and distinctive offerings.


Understanding the various processing methods of coffee is helpful in appreciating the nuances and flavors that each cup can offer. From the familiar washed method to the exotic natural and honey processes, each technique adds its own unique touch to the final product.

Whether you’re a coffee farmer or a coffee enthusiast, choosing the right processing method can have a significant impact on your overall experience. So next time you brew your morning cup of joe, take a moment to appreciate the journey it went through from cherry to bean.


What is the natural processing method?

Natural processing refers to the method where the coffee cherries are laid out to dry after they are harvested.

How does the natural processing method work?

In the natural processing method, the coffee cherries are spread out to dry in the sun, allowing the natural sugars to ferment and infuse the beans with unique flavors.

What is the washed method?

The washed method involves removing the outer skin and pulp of the coffee cherry before fermenting and washing the beans.

How does the washed method differ from the natural processing method?

In the washed method, the coffee cherries undergo fermentation and washing to remove the mucilage that surrounds the beans, resulting in a cleaner and brighter flavored coffee compared to the natural process.

What is the honey processed method?

The honey processed method is a hybrid of the natural and washed methods. It involves removing the outer skin of the coffee cherry while leaving some of the sticky, honey-like mucilage intact during drying.

How does the honey processed method affect the flavor of the coffee?

The honey processed method can impart sweet and fruity flavors to the coffee due to the sugars of the remaining mucilage seeping into the beans during drying.

Are there any other processing techniques besides natural, washed, and honey processing methods?

Yes, other processing techniques include wet hulled, semi-washed, pulped natural, and dry processing methods.

What is wet hulled processing?

Wet hulled processing, commonly used in regions like Indonesia, involves hulling the coffee when it still retains some moisture, resulting in a distinct flavor profile.

What factors can influence the flavor of the coffee during processing?

Factors such as the type of coffee, the fermentation process, the duration and method of drying, and the level of mucilage removal can all influence the flavor of the coffee.

About the Author:
Oliver Bennett, a seasoned barista, focuses on the technical aspects of coffee-making. His journey from local cafes to specialty coffee shops has equipped him with skills in the science of coffee, from grind size to latte art. Oliver's articles and how-to videos delve into brewing techniques and coffee science, fostering a community of home baristas and elevating the home coffee experience.