Washed coffee vs. natural coffee. Does it really matter? It’s important to note that the processing method has an impact on the taste and coffee market price. The coffee drinker cares about the taste and the farmer is concerned about the market price.
This post will highlight the difference between washed coffee and natural coffee processing methods. Which is better? And how each process affects the flavor of your coffee.
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What Is CoffeeProcessing ?
This the process of separating the coffee bean from the cherry while at the same time preserving the coffee’s profitability and unique taste. The processing method has a considerable effect on the end product.
First, it’s important to understand the anatomy of a coffee cherry. The coffee bean is enclosed in between different layers that include the skin, parchment, and mucilage.
Washed Coffee or Wet Processing Method
Cherries are collected and put into the floating water to sort the ripe and the unripe. The unripe or bad cherries float to the top and are removed to be processed separately as a lower grade coffee or used as manure by the farmers.
The quality cherries that sink are fed into the de-pulping machine where the cherry’s outer part is removed, and the seed comes out and is moved by water. The water and coffee move along the channel to a larger tank.
The coffee is left in the big tank for 8 hrs – 50 hrs to facilitate the fermentation process. The fermentation duration is different depending on the country, temperature, and the local process.
During fermentation, enzymes are created by the micro-organism, and this helps breakdown the mucilage.
From here, the beans are rewashed to remove the mucilage.
The coffee is taken to a concrete patio or dried on a raised bed in the sun from the tank. Most specialty coffee will be dried like this. Sometimes mechanical driers are used. The combination of the two can happen too.
The seed is dried off to a moisture content between 10 -12%. After the drying, there is one layer called the parchment that is left on the seed. The parchment protects the seed from the environment and from drying too quickly.
Natural Coffee or Dry Processing Method
This is the oldest coffee processing method and is mostly used in areas with acute water shortages. Natural processing can be a little tricky, and in the past, it had a reputation for producing low-quality coffee. This is because if the beans are not properly dried, they end up producing a sour taste.
The cherries are picked from the tree, and a sorting process similar to the wet processing method is conducted. This is often done by hand.
The best cherries are spread out in the sun, either on large concrete or raised beds. As the cherries dry, they are raked or turned by hand to ensure even drying and at the same time prevent the growth of mildew as this can have a big effect on the final taste in the cup.
It may take up to four weeks before the cherries are dried to the optimum moisture content level depending on the weather conditions.
On large plantations, machine drying is often used to speed up the process after the coffee has been pre-dried in the sun for a few days, although this is rare.
The most important part of coffee processing is the drying process. This is because any mistake made in this stage affects the final quality of the green coffee.
At the drying stage, the farmer ensures that the drying is not overdone as this may lead to the breaking of the cherry bean during hulling. Broken coffee beans are considered defective.
On the contrary, coffee beans that have not been sufficiently dried will be too moist and prone to rapid deterioration due to fungi and bacteria hence the need to strike the right balance.
The dried cherries are sent to the mill. This process is sometimes done on the farm. The hulling machine removes the outer layer of the dried cherry bean.
This dry method is used in almost 90% of arabica producing coffee regions such as Brazil, Ethiopia, and Indonesia.
However, this method is not practical in regions where there are frequent rains and high humidity.
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The flavor difference between washed coffee and natural coffee
Washed coffee is easily identified because of its shiny and sparkly appearance. Due to the amount of time spent in the fermentation tank, washed coffee will tend to be more acidic and a coffee-like taste and lacks the heavy fruit flavor.
On the other hand, natural coffee comes out with a fruitier taste. This is because in the process of drying the coffee bean. They extract sugar from the fruit surrounding it. It’s important to note that the coffee cherry fruit is in contact with the coffee bean throughout the drying process before it is removed
It’s not about washed coffee vs. natural coffee, but it boils down to your preference. Do you like your favorite cup of Joe with a heavy fruit-like flavor or with a natural coffee-like taste?
“Washed coffee isn’t clean. Natural coffee isn’t dirty.”Jordan Michelman and Zachary Carlsen
What is Honey Processed Coffee ?
Its also known as pulped natural coffee. It is a hybrid of the washed coffee and natural coffee. The cherry peel is removed, a considerable amount of the mucilage and fruit is also removed, and a small percentage is left.
When less mucilage is left after washing, it’s referred to as White and Yellow honey; contrary, when a lot of mucilage is left on the bean, they are referred to as Gold, Red, and Black Honey.
What is semi-washed coffee?
Also known as the “wet-hulled,” this processing method is common in Brazil and Indonesia.
As the name suggests, it involves fewer steps than the fully washed process.
The outer skin is removed using machines, and the beans are sun-dried with the mucilage still intact. The last process is the parchment is removal.
What is double-washed coffee?
Also referred to as double fermented. The method is common in Kenya and Burundi.
The beans are fermented for a longer period in water hence necessitating the need for a second wash.