by Jim Sherfey
As much as the best baristas in America can control a cup of coffee when the kettles are steaming and the scales are beeping, the fate of a bean is sealed far earlier, while still in its green state some thousands of miles aways.
A number of factors result in a bean's suggested notes of caramel, stone fruit, pine nut, and sesame. Coffee flavor profiles have to do with genetic cultivars—Bourbon, Caturra, Castillo, and Gesha all carry distinct tastes. Elevation, also plays a role. Lower levels of oxygen in the air create a dense, more complex bean. But to tap into those flavors, coffee must first be transformed from its original state, as the seed of a fruit, into a roast-ready green bean. And how producers handle this transition has a lasting effect on the coffee.
The most common ways a farmer treats coffee cherries (the name of the plant's fruit) are called Natural Process, Washed or Wet Processed, and Honey Processed or Pulped Natural. Practices vary by country and region, and myriad permutations can take place on the journey from cherry to bean. Below, the three most popular ways green coffee beans are handled, and how those processes impact your cup.