Coffee "beans," as we know them, are actually the seeds of a unique cherry whose skin and fruit have been removed.
There are many species of coffee, but only a few are consumed — Arabica and Robusta are the most common. In specialty coffee, Arabica is used near-exclusively for the overall better cup it produces. Within Arabica, there are many sub-species (called Varieties) that have their own unique characteristics and flavors — similar to grapes, as used for wine!
Once the cherries are picked, the skin, fruit and layer around the seeds needs to be removed before roasting is possible. The way in which this is done is what is referred to as the processing method.
There are a growing number of processing methods, as farmers and co-ops continue to experiment. The most common and best-known processes are the washed and natural methods.
Even within “washed” and “natural,” processing methods are chosen and impacted by the unique circumstances of each farm and processing site. For example, processing in an area that has more rainfall will be more tailored to deal with moisture than drier areas.
Each processing method greatly affects the flavor of the coffee, since the seed continues to absorb sugars and flavors from the fruit for as long as they're intact.
In the washed processing method, cherries are soaked in water to soften and ferment. The cherries are then sorted by quality (with “bad” cherries being removed), and the skin and fruit is “depulped” either through a series of chutes, mechanically, or a combination.
With the fruit removed, the seeds are then kept in vats of water to complete fermentation and enable removal of the fruit pectin from the seeds.
In the natural method, the entire cherry is placed out to dry in the sun, typically on patios. This enables the seeds to continue absorbing flavor as they ferment inside the cherry. Once the cherries reach the desired moisture content, the seeds are depulped, removing the now brittle pectin and skin.
Naturals have the potential for producing vibrant, fruit-forward cups. Without great precision, though, they can wind up with unpleasant flavors.
After fermentation and depulping, the seeds are dried. Drying varies depending on environmental conditions of the farm or processing site. The coffees we source are almost always dried in the sun, either on patios, where they’re consistently raked, or in raised beds that enable good air flow. In wetter climates, where sun-drying isn’t possible, mechanical drying is common, as is a combination of both methods.
Once the seeds are dried, they are scrubbed clean of their thick parchment top layer (similar to a peanut). The seeds are then packed in airtight GrainPro bags, which go in the familiar burlap bags. They are then ready to for the journey to roasters like — often going into cargo ships to be transported around the globe.
Once the seeds are dried, they are ready to be milled. To produce high quality coffees, access to good milling is essential. First, the seeds go through a “mechanical huller” — a machine that scrubs the thick parchment top layer from the seed (similar to a peanut). From there, coffee is sorted by quality—including density, size, and aesthetic (visible defects), depending on the equipment at the mill. Finally, the seeds go through a final inspection — human eyes!The coffee that emerges is packed up in those infamous burlap sacks, and ready for the journey to roasters like us — often going into cargo ships to be transported around the globe. Specialty roasters, like Canyon, typically request an extra barrier of protection to keep the green coffee safe and dry.