Coffee's inherent quality is close to its peak during this initial duration of time once it is picked, and the choice in how a coffee bean will be processed is one that is meant to truly showcase the inherent quality of the bean or compliment those raw attributes in a positive way.
Coffee is processed differently throughout the world; sometimes this is due to legacy or tradition based upon available resources (i.e. dry-processed coffees in areas with less rainfall..think Ethiopia or Yemen). This often happens without an understanding of its influence on the cup, while other times it is a specific choice at the farm level to add or coax out new flavors in that bean's taste profile.
Within countries, and even within specific farms, several processes can be employed. Producers around the world are experimenting with new processing techniques and styles everyday. Sometimes the results are truly astounding, while other experiments result in less than stellar results.
There are several major categories of coffee processing recognized by the coffee industry as a whole. Sometimes these are called different things depending on what country you are in, but the general principles remain the same. Below you will find some information on the main processing techniques used around the world: fully washed, natural, pulped natural or "honey", and wet hulled.
A detailed description of each method and how if effects flavor is very involved and is in fact the subject of many scholarly papers. It would take MUCH more than one humble blog post to cover them all but this general overview should get you started. Stay tuned to the blog as we will focus on one method per post where we can get into more detail, and what that means in your cup taste wise.