Coffee Processing 101 From Cherry to Your Morning Cup

Green Bean Coffee Processing 101

Many factors influence coffee from the cherry to your morning cup. The green bean coffee processing method chosen is one of the most influential factors. This process takes the coffee cherry and turns it into dried green coffee beans. Traditionally, two methods of processing were used; washed or natural. Recently, a newer approach called honey, has also become a popular processing method.

Wet or Washed Method

The washed processing method results in consistent quality, hence it is a popular method among coffee producers. Once farmers harvest coffee cherries, they are sorted by a machine that separates ripe from unripened fruit. Using forceful water the machine takes the skin and some pulp from the beans. From this point, two approaches remove the remaining pulp from the coffee beans. The beans ferment in water and enzymes to help break down the pulp surrounding the bean. This is called the fermentation process which can last up to 36 hours. Another way to de-pulp the beans is through mechanical demucilage. This process just uses a machine with forceful water that breaks apart the remaining pulp around the bean. After the beans are free from pulp they dry in the sun on raised beds or large patios. Workers must dry the beans to a ten percent water content for them to be stable enough for roasting.

Using the washed processing method is a form of quality assurance. It creates less ability for unripe or bad fruit to process. Beans processed through the washed method rely on absorbing enough nutrients and sugars during the growing season. This makes the climate, soil and fermentation processes extremely important to the flavor of the finished product. To focus on brighter flavors and single origin profiles, the washed processing method is the best option.

Dry or Natural Methodgreen-coffee-processing-methods-achilles-coffee-roasters

The natural processing method is the original way coffee from Ethiopia was processed in the beginning of coffee cultivation. After harvesting, farmers sort out unripe or rotten beans along with soil and leaves. The cherries then sit out to dry in the sun. Farmhands turn and rake the beans occasionally to ensure even drying. This is extremely important to avoid fungi and bacteria growth from mildew. The drying process may take anywhere up to 4 weeks depending on the climate of the region. Within the natural process this step is extremely important. Beans can dry for too long, making them break apart and defective. On the other hand, too much moisture can promote bacteria growth. After drying, beans sit in silos until they are ready for the hulling process. Hulling removes the outer dried shell of the coffee cherry.

Many countries cannot utilize the natural processing method. This is because their wet, tropical climates make it too humid for the beans to dry out properly. For this reason, the natural processing method can produce a lower quality bean due to the unpredictability. However, when done properly, the dry method creates flavor profiles with heavy, sweet body and complex notes.

Honeyed Processing Method

The honeyed processing method combines techniques from both the wet and natural processing methods. Farmers harvest and mechanically separate the cherry from the bean. Processors then store the beans with pulp still remaining for up to a day. With the honeyed green bean coffee processing method bacteria can be a huge problem. Therefore, when set out to dry the beans must be raked every 2-3 hours to prevent growth.

Because this process is a mix of wet and dry, flavor profiles associated with both methods can be present in the finished product. Honey processed beans tend to be sweeter with mild, but preferable acidity.

Sustainability in Processing Methods

Each different green bean coffee processing method creates a favorable outcome. However, some methods are more environmentally friendly than others. The natural or dry processing method is the most eco-friendly due to fewer resources used in the process. Achilles Coffee Roasters own single origin Windansea roast from Ethiopia is processed using the natural method. Although, the natural process requires more physical labor to tend to the beans manually. Honey processed coffee beans also use less water than the traditional wet washed method.

Various factors influence the flavor of the coffee including climate, region and soil. This is why it is important to understand the flavor profile you are looking for when choosing a processing method.

Cooperative Coffee Roasting – A New Model in the Coffee Industry

If you’re a coffee shop owner you might have considered roasting your own beans at some point. But the cost can be prohibitive for some — when you consider equipment, leasing space, building out that space, getting the right permits, and so on, the costs soon mount up.

Now that’s all starting to change with a new model: cooperative coffee roasting.

What is a Cooperative Coffee Roasting?

At its simplest, a cooperative is an organization run by its members, for the benefit of its members. It has historically been a popular business model for agriculture, art, groceries and sports teams. Industries in which being run by and for customers or fans can be a true asset. An insurance company that is owned by its customers will charge lower prices and pay more claims, for example, because they aren’t driven by the need to make a profit — they merely need to break even. A sports team run by its fans will always place fans’ interests ahead of commercial interests.

Now the model is spreading to cooperative coffee roasting. Cooperatives like Buckman Coffee Factory and Pulley Collective in New York, are beginning to make coffee roasting more accessible to everyone including small local coffee bean roasters.

Cost Benefits of a Cooperative Model

Cooperative-Coffee-Roasting-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-Our-CoffeeAt its simplest, a cooperative allows people to share the startup costs of roasting. Pulley Collective, for example, estimates that the costs of opening a new coffee roasting operation would be between $300k – $1m in New York. Pulley Collective, in comparison, charges its members $850 per week for membership, with different packages available depending on whether you want to rent the space by the day or by the hour. Buckman Coffee Factory offers hourly and monthly leasing options as well as green coffee storage.

This means that roasting is accessible to everyone, no matter the budget.

Better Coffee, Too

Simple economics would suggest that when the cost of entry into a market falls, more people will enter that market. ;That’s exactly what’s happening with cooperative coffee roasters: more and more small, niche, local coffee bean roasters are getting involved, spurred on by the lower start up costs and a chance to do something they love.That’s exactly what’s happening with cooperative coffee roasters: more and more small, niche, local coffee bean roastersare getting involved, spurred on by the lower start up costs and a chance to do something they love.

With lower costs, roasters now have the freedom to experiment and try new ideas, too. By allowing room for this variety and innovation, cooperative roasters lead to better quality coffee.

There’s one final benefit: ready access to a community of like-minded people. Roasters can surround themselves with others who are striving to create great coffee, sharing advice and stories, and bonding over their shared passion.

With so many benefits to coffee roasters and drinkers alike, there’s no doubt about it. Cooperative coffee roasting is here to stay.

How Altitude Affects the Flavor of Coffee

Much like wine, beer, and tea, the way in which coffee beans are grown can drastically affect the flavor of the cup that you eventually drink. There are many factors that affect the quality of a coffee bean, but none more important than the altitude it’s grown at.

To understand why altitude has such a large impact on the flavor of a coffee bean, we have to dig into a little bit of plant biology. As a general rule, the higher the altitude, the harder it is for a plant to thrive. While this seems like a bad thing on its face, it’s actually beneficial for the plants that survive. They produce high altitude coffee beans that are more dense and hard, packed with the sugars and flavors sought after by coffee buyers (and drinkers) around the world.

How Altitude Affects the Flavor of Coffee Achilles CoffeeHigher Altitude Has Effects on Coffee Plants

Beans mature slower in the harsher climate, giving the sugars more time to develop
The angled growing surface of mountainous regions promotes runoff, meaning plants get less water and the coffee cherries are denser

Because most plants that we eat are grown at sea level, you might be wondering exactly what high altitude is when it comes to coffee. Generally, coffee grown over 4,000 feet above sea level (1200m) is considered “high altitude” coffee. However, coffee is grown at a range of altitudes around the world, each of which affect the flavor of the bean in different ways.

Coffee Grown at < 2,500ft

Coffee grown below 2,500 feet is less complex in flavor, mild, and often a bit bland. The coffee plant isn’t subjected to much stress at these altitudes and has an abundance of water, meaning the coffee cherries get nice and fat, which dilutes their flavor. The only exception at this altitude is the famed Hawaiian Kona coffee, which thrives at 2,000 feet.

Coffee Grown at 3,000ft (900m)

At 3,000 feet, coffee begins to take on both sweeter and smoother flavors. The climate is slightly harsher at this altitude and that begins to bear itself out in the flavor of the harvested beans.

Coffee Grown at 4,000ft (1200m)

At 4,000 feet, we are getting into the realm of some of the finest coffees in the world. This is the altitude at which the best arabica beans in the world are grown at. Another factor in the quality of beans at this altitude, especially arabica beans, is that they’re often grown in exceptionally nutrient-dense soil.

The flavor profiles of beans grown at this altitude are varied. You can pick up notes of citrus, nuts, vanilla, and chocolate.

High Altitude Coffee Grown at 5,000ft (1500m)

Coffee grown at around 5,000 feet (1500m) is known as very high altitude coffee. The flavors imparted in these beans are fruity, spicy, floral, and even reminiscent of wine.

Now that you’re aware of the drastic differences that altitude can have on the flavor of a coffee bean, you’ll know which beans to purchase when you head over to your local roaster. Understanding the fundamentals of coffee elevationand what makes a bean taste a certain way are the first steps in becoming a more discerning coffee drinker.

Community Gardens and Farms – Achilles Coffee Partners with Food2Soil

Achilles-Coffee-San-Diego-Food2SoilAchilles Coffee Roasters is proud to contribute to local San Diego community gardens and farms through our partnership with Food2Soil, a collective of restaurants and gardeners seeking to make better use of waste products in the food and beverage industry. We’re making every effort we can to get to Zero Waste, through composting, recycling, and/or reusing everything possible at our two locations.

Composting Spent Coffee Grounds

All of our spent coffee grounds are saved in repurposed buckets and Food2Soil picks them up once a week. Once our coffee grounds leave our locations, Food2Soil distributes them to local San Diego composts, gardens and farms. These partners then work our grounds into their composting bins, turning our grounds into nitrogen-rich compost.

When added to compost, coffee grounds increase the acidity of the mixture as well as add much-needed nitrogen to a finished pile of compost. The nitrogen-rich compost that Food2Soil’s composting partners create gets distributed to local urban farms, community gardens, and urban agriculture organizations.

San Diego Community Gardens and Farms

The produce that is grown from the local farms that use Food2Soil’s compost eventually makes its way back into local San Diego farmers markets and restaurants, closing the loop from waste products to nutritious, flavor-filled local produce. This is important to us because Achilles Coffee is committed to sourcing local produce, eggs, meats, dairy and bread whenever possible.

We hope that our small steps to close the loop as much as possible will start a chain reaction in both the local San Diego roaster industry, as well as in the San Diego food and beverage industry as a whole.

Sustainability in the Restaurant Industry

While we focus on making outputs from Achilles Coffee more sustainable by partnering with Food2Soil, we’re also doing everything in our power to source local, organic, and sustainable ingredients for both our food and drink. It’s our goal to make sure that both the inputs and outputs of our business are as local and sustainable as possible. This serves two purposes:

  1. We reduce our impact on the environment as much as possible
  2. We contribute to other local San Diego businesses by both sourcing ingredients from them, and then returning our compostable waste back to community gardens.

We can’t control what happens to resources once they leave our store, but we do everything we can to make sure what comes into our store is environmentally sound. It is our goal to replace the plastic cups and straws we use with products made from plant based materials. We hope to roll this out at our two locations in 2018.

If all local businesses take simple steps to reduce, reuse and recycle and source from local suppliers, together we’ll make progress towards a more sustainable and connected local business environment, which is one of our core values at Achilles Coffee Roasters.

Fair and Direct Trade Coffee – Cooperative Coffees

Coop Coffees is an interesting player in the 3rd wave coffee movement. What they do is simple: they import green coffee from smaller-scale farmers and their exporting cooperatives all around the world. That’s not so unique, is it? After all, the fair trade coffee movement has been around for quite some time. What makes Cooperative Coffees different?Buy-Green-Coffee-Beans-Online-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-California


What Cooperative Coffees is doing differently is evolving the definition of “fair trade.” They already adhere to the “Nine Basic Principles” of fair trade:


  1. Create Opportunities for Economically and Socially Marginalized Producers
  2. Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships
  3. Build Capacity
  4. Promote Fair Trade
  5. Pay Promptly and Fairly
  6. Support Safe and Empowering Working Conditions
  7. Ensure the Rights of Children
  8. Cultivate Environmental Stewardship
  9. Respect Cultural Identity


What they’ve done is take these nine principles and update them to the present day.


When the fair trade movement first started, the goal was to build a unified and transparent network between coffee growers, purchasers, and roasters. However, it has instead created a tangled web of different purchasing networks and companies. All of these players are operating by different sets of rules. This means that the definition of “fair trade” is much murkier than it once was.


In fact, this murkiness is part of the reason we’ve seen a push towards direct trade coffee, where roasters deal directly with a particular farm, often making site visits and building a person-to-person relationship with the farmer. Direct trade is often hailed as the gold standard of trade practices, but it’s a one-to-one relationship. What about smaller roasters that don’t have the capacity to directly visit farmers?


By updating the Nine Basic Principles and adding the cooperative aspect to their business, Coop Coffees is creating a more transparent and fair market between small-scale coffee growers and small-scale coffee roasters. By creating a collective of roasters that all commit to purchasing under these fair and direct trade coffee principles, they are giving farmers and their communities much more than just income. They’re giving them stability.


As if this wasn’t already enough, Coop Coffees is expanding all across the United States and Canada, with a new location coming to Los Angeles soon. They have dozens of exporting relationships with cooperatives in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. On the demand side, they have over 20 member roasters in the cooperative.


Will we see a Coop Coffees member roaster make an entrance in San Diego? Or perhaps another cooperative coffee shop will dip its toes in the water down here. Either way, this evolution of the fair trade movement is a good sign for artisanal roasters around the country.

What is the Third Wave Coffee Movement?

Third Wave Coffee Movement

You’ve probably noticed the third wave coffee movement happening around you already, without even realizing that’s what you’re seeing. Increasing numbers of small shops, many of them with the name Roasters in their titles, have opened in neighborhoods across the US. Generally speaking, they tend to be Spartan in appearance, lots of exposed stone or natural wood, overhead Edison lightbulbs and any number of glass or steel contraptions behind the bar. If you’ve walked in, then you’ve noticed that these shops have their own lingo and practices: they talk about different types of roasts, single origin beans, and frequently have a list of adjectives on their menu for each discrete coffee that they brew, adjectives that might seem more at home in a wine-tasting workshop than in a place where you’re picking up your morning brew. And surely you’ve noticed the lattes, where there was once maybe a large blob of thick foam atop your drink, there are now delicate, artistic designs drawn in milk, a heart, a fern, or a tulip.

So what’s going on here? Obviously, the third wave movement of coffee consumption is about more than the aesthetic signifiers listed above, so what is the third wave actually about?

As the name “third wave would imply, it’s actually the third of its kind to come along. The first wave movement of coffee (retroactively named, obviously) refers to the time in which coffee became a widespread American drink, the morning beverage of choice, brewed at home, and readily available on the shelves of most local grocery stores. Think Folgers and Maxwell House coffee. This happened for a few reasons, but developments and innovation in the shipping industry had a lot to do with it.

The second wave of coffee refers to the period of the proliferation of coffee shops across the country, Peet’s in Berkeley is often credited with kicking off the second wave. During the second wave coffee movement, customers were introduced to espresso and the variety of drinks that are espresso derived lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, and macchiatos, to name a few. Coffee shops became places to spend time and socialize, European-style.

Third-Wave-Coffee-Movement-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-EspressoAnd now we’ve reached the third wave. Third wave coffee, often referred to as Specialty Coffee, was really spearheaded by coffee shops and roasters like Intelligentsia (out of Chicago), Stumptown (Portland), and Counter Culture (North Carolina). In third wave coffee, coffee is treated like a premium product like wine or craft beer. People pay careful attention to its origins and beans are roasted so that the roast highlights the unique qualities of each bean, rather than roasting to create a uniform black coffee taste. This attention to detail carries over to the way the coffee is brewed in third wave shops as well. Baristas are educated and trained to properly pull shots of espresso. In addition to batch brew, coffee is often prepared by the cup such as pour over, with attention to the grind of the coffee, the temperature of the water, and the brew time. This all takes place so that you, the consumer, can truly appreciate the unique cup of coffee in your hands!

The Process of Coffee Cupping

You may have heard of the term cupping if you are involved in the coffee world or happen to be trying out lots of specialty coffee. Unfortunately, like much of the terminology belonging to the modern coffee industry, this one can seem pretty obtuse if no one has explained it to you yet. “Cupping?” You might be saying. “Isn’t that what we do whenever we make coffee- brew it, and put it into a cup?” Well, actually, cupping refers to a pretty specific process of brewing, tasting, and establishing the qualities of different batches of beans when they’re freshly roasted. The cupping process almost always follows some pretty strict parameters to ensure consistency and a sort of “intellectual honesty” when it comes to tasting the beans and evaluating those tastes. Learn more about the coffee cupping procedure below!

The definition of a coffee cupping is this: it is a (usually professionally) conducted procedure of brewing and then observing and evaluating coffee- mostly with an eye to smell, texture, and- of course- taste. Here are the aspects of a professional-grade coffee cupping that are so stringent and effective:
First, the beans must be freshly roasted. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (also known as the SCAA– and pretty much the go-to source for any coffee information or specifications you may need), the bean sample should be roasted within 24 hours of the cupping. This is especially tricky because coffee beans need time to rest after they’re roasted- and the SCAA says 8 hours of resting, at least.

Once you’ve got your freshly-roasted (and freshly rested!) beans, you can start getting the coffee ready to taste. CuppingAchilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-Cupping-2a according to standards requires strict measurements of coffee to water ratios- 8.25 grams of coffee per 125 mL of water, according to the SCAA. You should weigh the beans before grinding them, not after. And speaking of grinding- there are regulations around when that can happen, too. Your coffee sample should be ground as close to brewing as possible, and absolutely no more than 15 minutes before.

Instead of using a typical brew method (like a Pour Over, or a French press) for the coffee that will be evaluated during a cupping, the hot water is poured directly over the grounds. Because of this, a few minutes need to pass between pouring and when the coffee is ready to taste- otherwise you’ll just be drinking coffee particles. Three to five minutes is recommended in order for the grounds to settle appropriately.

Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-Coffee-Flavor-WheelNow the tasting and evaluation can actually begin! For a professional cupping, there will usually be a long form that is filled out to help those present go down the list of qualities that the coffee has or lacks- these are qualities like aroma, body, acidity, balance, sweetness, uniformity, and aftertaste, among many others. Basically, any aspect of the coffee that can be judged is examined on its own, and then used together to create a holistic evaluation of the coffee (and to frequently give it a score). This score, made up of the judgments reached during the cupping, help to determine whether you’re getting a specialty cup of coffee or not, and what words will be used to describe it when it is passed on to buyers across the country. Keep your eyes open for coffee cupping around San Diego! 

How is Coffee Decaffeinated? The Swiss Water and Mountain Water Process

Decaf Coffee

Decaffeinated coffee has long been the outcast in the coffee world- especially among coffee connoisseurs, roasting snobs, and caffeine junkies. The reputation of decaf coffee runs from mediocre to downright dangerous, depending on who you ask. Some people hate the taste, some people are worried about chemicals or carcinogens in their coffee, and “Death-Before-Decaf” tattoo-sporting baristas have long made coffee shop customers afraid to order the decaffeinated bean.

But the dark ages are over! Decaffeinated coffee no longer has to be the pariah among coffee beans that it once was. The process of decaffeination has been greatly improved with technological advancements and innovations in the last few decades, making it a far healthier option than it once was and improving the taste now as well. Plus, the proliferation of Third Wave coffee roasters- roasters who really care about the quality of the bean, and have lots of experience roasting different specialty beans- is making it more and more likely that you can find a decaf bean that has been roasted well (roasting a decaffeinated coffee bean is a notoriously tricky thing).

When decaf coffee originated, turning the idea of making a cup of coffee into a cup of decaf coffee has been made turned into a reality by using chemical solvents. Coffee was soaked with different chemical compounds that extract the caffeine and created decaf. However, it is that very process that gave decaf the poor popular standing that it has today. Using chemicals, especially in the early days of decaffeination, led to coffee that tasted subpar. Additionally, the earliest decaf processes employed chemicals like benzene and chloroform as solvents- things that are toxic or known to be carcinogens. As a result, decaf coffee’s standing in the world was not a good one.

Swiss Water Process and Mountain Water Process

Today, however, everything is different. Chemical processing is still used today, but it’s no longer the health hazard that it once was. And coffee science has progressed to using other methods to decaffeinate coffee as well- specifically, the water processing method has gained a lot of momentum. There are two very popular ways to water process your coffee to decaffeinate it- the Swiss Water Decaf Coffee Process (so called because it is a trademark of a company- not because it is made with Swiss water especially) and the Mountain Water Process (also trademarked).

How-is-Coffee Decaffeineated-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-DiegoThe Swiss Water Process uses a liquid called Green Coffee Extract or GCE– that is created by removing the caffeine from a batch of green beans, and then discarding those beans. That GCE is then passed through specialized charcoal carbon filters- which are shaped to only filter caffeine molecules out- and reintroduced to a batch of green beans. The GCE helps to maintain the flavor of the coffee throughout the decaffeination process. That batch of beans is then subjected to the same process, but since the GCE is saturated with oil and flavor (but no caffeine), it means that the decaf coffee will maintain a richness of taste.

The Swiss Water Process and Mountain Water Process each claim to remove 99.9% of caffeine from their batches.

Today, the Swiss Water Processing plant resides in Canada, and you can likely find a local retailer or coffee shop that employs their method of decaffeination with their own beans. The Mountain Water Process is located in Mexico.
Supposedly, researchers are working on a decaf coffee plant- where the decaf beans will actually grow on their own. It may be several years away still, but it will surely be a game-changer in the coffee world.

What’s the Difference Between Direct Trade and Fair Trade Coffee?

If you’ve frequented any third-wave coffee shops lately, chances are you’ve heard more than a little talk of where the coffee comes from- third-wave coffee shops make it a point to know where the coffee comes from, what type of bean it is, and tend to forgo blends in favor of a single-origin cup of coffee (single-origin, here, means exactly what it sounds like it means: coffee that comes from only one place or batch).

Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-Colombian-CoffeeIn these discussions about the agricultural and geographic origins of your cup of joe, it’s pretty likely that you’ve heard the term direct trade. To the uninitiated, the term seems unnecessarily obvious, or obfuscating- isn’t all trade direct? What, precisely, would indirect trade mean?

Direct Trade vs. Fair Trade

Direct trade coffee, as a term and as a practice, has gradually developed as an alternative to the concept of fair trade coffee. Fair trade took off in the latter half of the twentieth century, as a way for people producing commodities like coffee, tea, or even craftwork to market and sell their products to places like the United States and Europe- and to make a reasonable living wage doing it. Fair trade, which became an official certification, focuses on poverty alleviation and sustainable development in the areas in which these commodities are produced. For coffee specifically, fair trade has traditionally utilized the establishment of coffee cooperatives (co-ops) in which a number of growers come together to sell and make decisions for their communities at large. When you purchase a bag of fair trade-certified coffee, you can reasonably assume that the people who produced that coffee received reasonable remuneration for that coffee.

So why move to a direct trade model at all? While fair trade coffee does accomplish a more ethical system of buying and selling coffee, direct trading offers a few things to coffee merchants that simple fair trade does not. First, when coffee shops talk about coffee that is direct trade, it frequently means that the owners or purveyors of that shop communicate and buy directly from the growers of the coffee- cutting out the marketplace middlemen and importers/exporters that are typically a feature of fair trade coffee. Buying directly from coffee growers has a lot of benefits- it means that the buyers can truly ensure that a fair price is paid for the product, and if a long-term relationship is built between a coffee farm or co-op and a coffee shop owner, the two can collaborate around the growing process, roasting process, and taste of the bean. Coffee roasters can give feedback to the grower about bean quality, who can alter things for the next batch of coffee to produce a healthier bean and ultimately, a better cup of coffee. Coffee growers can also receive support for expansion or improvements from a particular buyer once a relationship has been established.

An increasingly globalized world often brings the potential for exploitation and vast economic inequality – direct trade coffee has so far bucked this trend. When coffee growers and coffee roasters/purveyors are able to directly collaborate, it can mean improved quality of life for the growers, and better coffee for the roasters.