Everything You Need to Know About Dry Processed Coffee

There are a lot of steps that happen before the coffee you love gets roasted and packaged for sale. If you love gourmet coffee as much as I do, you might be interested in how it all works. Dry-processed coffee is one of the primary ways in which coffee is processed prior to roasting.

In short, dry-processed coffee is the practice of laying out the coffee cherries on a drying slab in the sun for up to 3 weeks. Once the coffee cherries are dry, the outer layer (husk) is removed and the dried coffee beans are kept for roasting.

While that is the general idea of dry-processing coffee, there is much more that goes into and comes out of this method than just that. Below I will explore how dry-processing works and what it does to the coffee.

What makes dry-processed coffee different from other processing methods?

Dry processed coffee is one of 3 unique ways to process coffee cherries. While there are benefits to each approach, this process has its own characteristics. 

As its name implies, dry-processed coffee is differentiated from other methods in the way in which the cherries are dried prior to the seed (bean) being removed from the cherry.

In order to produce the coffee that we drink, the coffee bean must be removed from the cherry and dried.  This can be done by drying the entire cherry and then removing the bean once it’s dried.  Or the beans can be washed and removed from the cherry prior to drying them. After the beans are dried, they can be roasted and turned into coffee.  Dry-processing is typically done in a five-step process.

5 Steps to Dry-Process Coffee

Step 1 The coffee plants are harvested.

Dry-processed coffee is one of the oldest methods for processing coffee, but much like other methods of processing coffee, it starts with harvesting the coffee plants.  Coffee farmers grow coffee plants with rich fruity flavors that are best suited for dry-processing. Once the cherries are ripe, they are picked from the coffee plants.

Step 2 Sorting the coffee cherries

After the coffee plants are harvested, farmers sort the cherries, selecting ripe, dark red cherries for processing.  Their selection process is part of what makes dry-processed coffees unique. This coffee is not mass-produced. Instead, the farmers focus on choosing the highest quality cherries for processing.

Step 3 The cherries are placed in the sun to dry

The ripe cherries are then placed in the sun on a concrete slab to dry and ferment.  The long process of fermenting the cherries allows them to absorb the full flavor of the cherries into the beans. 

Step 4 The cherries are raked several times a day

To keep the cherries from rotting, they must be raked several times a day.  Moisture in the cherries can cause mold to form, which will affect the taste of the coffee.  This process ensures that all the cherries are dried evenly, prevents spoiling, and helps them to dry faster.

Step 5: The coffee beans are removed from the cherries and sorted.

The cherries will be left in the sun for several weeks to completely ferment and dry them.  Once the fermentation process is complete, the beans are removed from the cherry and sorted for packaging.  Coffee producers use their own grading system to select the highest quality beans for shipping.  

How does dry processing affect the flavor of coffee?

Dry-processing creates a very different flavor than typical wet-processed coffees.  This is because wet-processing coffee removes the bean from the cherry first and washes away much of the fruit flavor before they are dried.

In general, dry-processed coffee has a fruity, sweeter tasting flavor.  Because it is aged and dried in the sun, the coffee takes on more of the natural flavor from the cherries.  Naturally drying cherries can create earthy, sweet, or berry-like flavors, depending on where the beans were grown.

Farmers have become more selective about which plants to dry-process, which has made the selection of dry-processed coffee more exciting.  Coffee producers select the most flavorful fruits to dry-process. Some select earthy or traditional tasting coffee beans, which are more popular in a standard coffee. However, with the demand for more variety in coffee, many farmers are now choosing sweeter fruits that produce coffee with a rich, vibrant fruity flavor.

Some people believe that dry-processed coffee is inferior because unwashed beans may be susceptible to mold or other impurities that can affect the flavor.  However, there is something about this natural process that makes the flavor of dry-processed coffee stand out. Even though this is an older way of processing coffee, farmers have improved the way they dry the coffee, such as using raised beds. This allows them to produce higher-quality natural coffee.   

Because of the way the coffee is processed, you can truly taste the flavor of the bean’s country of origin.  This coffee has a distinct flavor you won’t taste in other coffees.  If you like trying coffees with a unique flavor, dry-processed coffee may be just what you’re looking for.

Where is dry-processed coffee produced?

Dry-processed coffee is produced all over the world, but because rain and humidity can affect the drying process it is typically produced in countries where the climate is dry.  If the area has a lot of rain and humidity, the cherries cannot be processed in natural sunlight and will need to be dried in mechanical dryers.

Typically, the dry-processing method is used in areas of the world where water is scarce like Ethiopia and Kenya.  Because this method requires little water and plenty of sunlight, countries with a dry climate tend to produce this type of coffee.

Is dry-processed coffee better for the environment?

There are many environmental concerns created by wet processing coffee. This method requires a large amount of water and produces waste that can be bad for the environment.  Many of the countries that produce coffee lack the resources and regulations to adequately deal with the waste produced.

As a general rule, dry-processing coffee is considered better for the environment.  This method doesn’t require large amounts of water or industrial equipment to produce.  Because there is no wastewater produced, it has a lower impact on the country’s natural resources.

On the other hand, when coffee is wet-processed the remaining sludge that is removed from the coffee bean needs to be washed away before the beans can be dried.  This wastewater often ends up in the country’s water sources.   With the high demand for coffee, large coffee farms may be leaving their country with an environmental impact that not all coffee consumers are aware of.  While this method allows for mass production and much faster processing, it’s left many questioning its long-term effect on the environment. This is why most environmentalists favor the dry-processing method to process coffee.

How do you roast dry-processed coffee?

Dry-processed coffee can be roasted in the same way that other coffees are roasted.  However, because it is such a flavorful coffee, you might want to choose a roasting method that doesn’t roast the flavor away. Higher temperatures and longer roasting times tend to reduce the flavor in the coffee bean. 

Generally, a light roast is considered best when roasting dry-processed coffee.  This will preserve the flavor of the coffee and provide you with coffee that’s true to its original flavor. For this type of coffee, a slower roast at a lower temperature is usually recommended.

If you truly prefer dark roast coffee, you may still enjoy the flavor of this coffee more than traditional wet-processed coffee. Just bear in mind, the longer the bean is roasted, the less of the flavor you will taste.

The 3 Types of Processing Coffee

Dry processed coffee

Dry-processed coffee is also called natural coffee. This method of processing is often used in areas where there is little access to water, like Ethiopia, where it is believed to have originated.  This process is much different than wet processing because the whole cherry is dried and not just the bean. The result is a distinct, sweet-tasting coffee bean.

Wet processed coffee

Wet processing is the most common method for processing coffee.  It is an industrial way of processing coffee that involves using a large amount of water and machines to wash the cherries and de-pulp them. Coffee farmers select ripe cherries and put them through a machine called a depulper that removes the flesh from the cherries. They are left with just the sticky outer covering or mucilage.  The beans are left in a tank where they ferment for about 12-36 hours. As they ferment the remaining mucilage breaks down, leaving just the bean.  They are then washed and dried under light or left in the sun to dry.  This significantly speeds up the drying process.  Unlike dry processing, which can take several weeks, wet-processed coffee can be processed in as little as a  week.

Honey processed coffee

Honey processed coffee uses a combination of washing and the natural drying process. Although it’s called honey processing, this method does not use honey.  When coffee is honey processed, coffee cherries are de-pulped, but instead of washing all the mucilage off the bean, the mucilage is left on the bean.  They are then carefully dried by placing a thin layer of beans out to dry.

Tim S.

Tim loves roasting, brewing, and experimenting with coffee. After years of perfecting this craft, working as a barista, and owning a small coffee service in college, he has decided to share his knowledge with the world.

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