Ever wonder what it means when your coffee is labelled Washed or Natural?
Easy! It's the process between harvesting and shipping coffee from origin to your roaster! The process is one aspect of coffee production which will manipulate flavour, quality, price and lifespan of your coffee!
Lets start at the beginning... A farmer picks a coffee cherry. It has an outer fruit (or pulp), a layer of sticky mucilage, and a thin 'parchment' layer, all swaddling that all important seed. (Commonly referred to as a coffee bean!)
Why the process?
There are two processes the coffee farmer has to action before milling and shipping a harvest:
1. Removing the Outer Cherry
The coffee cherries skin and flesh has to be removed from the seed ready for roasting! Ripe coffee cherries will go through a pulper on the day they are picked, the byproducts (coffee skin and pulp) generally have two routes. Many producers follow sustainable farming practices and compost the waste organic matter to be reused on the farm. The cherry skin can also be dried and brewed as a tea widely known as Cascara, currently awaiting distribution approval by EU Food Standards Law. [https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2017/03/cascara-banned-mixed-messages-eu/] )
Once pulped, the beans have to be evenly dried (generally from 60% moisture content down to 11-12%) to preserve and deter and moulds from forming and rotting the precious raw bean...
This essential stage determines the dominant flavour profile of the bean and can be processed in a wet (Washed) or dry (Natural) way.
So here comes the comparison...
WASHED: Aka the Wet Process
Cherries are picked and separated from the seed using a pulping machine
The seeds are then immersed in a tank of water and allowed to lightly ferment for 12-24 hours to allow the remaining mucilage to detach from the seed.
After the skin and flesh is removed the seeds flow from the fermentation tanks along a water channel and are agitated until the seeds are completely clean and the water runs clear.
The 'parchment coffee' is then laid out in the sun on patios (the Americas) or on tables/raised beds (Africa) until the desired moisture content is achieved.
This process is favoured as there is less risk of bean defects, more chance of achieving a higher quality of flavour and price.
The Washed process requires more investment and more skill!
The flavour profile? Clean, bright, high acidity, light body, floral
NATURAL: Aka the Dry Process
Cherries are picked and then dried like raisins, before separating cherry and bean
The drying process requires the cherries to be spread out in a thin layer on a brick patio or raised drying tables with good airflow to dry in the sun.
The cherry skin and pulp is removed from the bean after drying.
This is common practice in coffee communities where there is less access to water and less investment.
The natural process is historically the oldest method and has been used for hundreds of years.
There is higher risk to consistency of ripeness, moisture levels and flavour
Less skill is required
More chance of fermenting into fruity, boozy flavours
The flavour profile? Heavy body, sweet, complex, fruity, high viscosity
Want to taste the difference for yourself? We've released a 'One Farm: Two Flavours' pack with two x 250g of coffee – one washed, one natural! Test those taste buds!