Coffee Fermentation Methods

Ever wonder how your morning brew came to be? Its origin story begins much earlier than its place on the grocery store shelves.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Subbotina Anna

Coffee is one of the most heavily traded export commodities in the world. It grows in about 70 countries, within a relatively narrow area just north and south of the equator. Broadly speaking, two species of coffee are commercially cultivated: Coffea arabica (Arabica) and C. canephora (robusta). Arabica represents approximately 60 percent of the world’s coffee production, and it also represents most of the coffee used in the specialty coffee industry.

Coffee’s ripe cherry-like fruits have to go through a series of steps to get to the seeds (what we see as raw green coffee) that are shipped later. Three different methods are used to take coffee from the fruit to the exportable green coffee: the wet process, the dry process, and the semi-dry process. These processes distinguish themselves from each other by the internal bean’s contact with the outside fruit; water usage; factors that influence a farmer’s processing options, such as water availability, organic controls, and, more recently, wastewater management; and flavor or cup profile. Within each process, fermentation plays a slightly different role in removing the fruit from the seed.

Photo by Cooperative Coffees

All three processes can affect a coffee’s physical and chemical composition; processing time; and attributes, including acidity, body (richness), flavor complexity, and sweetness.

Coffee Cherry Anatomy

A coffee bean, or “cherry,” of either Arabica or robusta coffee is actually a berry — some definitions identify it as a “drupe.” Either way, coffee cherries are composed of multiple layers, and each one performs specific functions during the fermentation process.

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