There are three different types of coffee processing: natural, washed, and honey. Coffee processing is how the coffee is treated after it is picked. The natural or dry process coffees are similar to a back-to-basics approach to processing. The style comes from Ethiopia and has been in use for hundreds of years. First the farmers wash the coffee cherries and then dry them in the sun. This can be difficult to do just about anywhere because the climate has to be just right to ensure the beans dry evenly and quickly while the cherries ferment. The risky part of the process is removing the green bean from the dried and fermented cherry. The most flavorful coffees are often naturally processed.
The wet or washed process coffees focus on the beans true flavor because the cherry is pulped from the coffee beans by a machine that removes the outer layer of skin. The bean still is covered with mucilage and is fermented in water for one to two days, or longer. After fermentation, the mucilage is washed from the coffee bean. The process creates a much fruitier flavor than the dry processed bean. The washed process is able to highlight the true character of single origin beans like no other process. This is why so many specialty coffees use the wet process. This method generally produces the highest quality coffees.
The honey coffee process tends to add sweet notes to the coffee because some of the mucilage of the fruit remains on the bean after the skin and pulp are removed through water and fermentation. The mucilage has the appearance of honey, thus the name. Sometimes this process is referred to as fully washed. This method is used for much Arabica coffee processing, including Costa Rican coffees.