Sharp to mellow, fruity to nutty, coffee has a range of flavours across the board. There are so many factors that take part in creating the intricate taste that we all enjoy that two seemingly similar coffees can taste completely different. One variable to consider is how the beans are processed before they are ready to roast. There are a variety of different coffee processes, but most of them stem from two main types, natural or washed.
What are coffee processes? Let’s quickly go over the basic anatomy of a coffee cherry before we continue. A coffee cherry consists of 7 parts, the outer skin, pulp, pectin layer, parchment, silver skin, the bean and the center cut. Coffee processes are designed to remove the mucilage (or squishy bits) and parchment from around the bean so they can be ready to be roasted into your favourite coffee. How can this affect your coffee’s flavour? Let’s dive into the different processes to find out.
Natural Process doesn’t use water, hence why it is also known as the dry process. Cherries are checked for ripeness and quality before being put on raised beds or patios to dry. The outer layer remains on the bean during this process allowing the enzymes to interact with the fruit surrounding the coffee bean as they dry. This gives the beans a fruitier taste. When the cherries have fully dried, which can take between 3-6 weeks depending on the climate, they are hulled removing the dried fruit and parchment from the bean. Natural processing can be a bit tricky since the cherries are still whole while drying, they must be carefully raked through to ensure any mold or overripe cherries are removed. Any missed cherries could be disastrous; potentially affecting the final flavour and ruining an entire batch. The natural process isn’t as widely used as the washed process; however, it is commonly seen in areas with less access to water or drier climate such as Ethiopia.
Natural processing can be a bit tricky, since the cherries are still whole while drying, they must be carefully raked through to ensure any mold or overripe cherries are removed.
The washed process is also known as the wet process, which makes sense since it involves a lot more water. The coffee cherries are harvested and the fruit is removed from around the bean. The beans are then submerged in water to ferment, breaking down the remaining pulp. The beans are washed again before they are put on raised beds to dry. When the beans are finally dried, they are hulled to remove the parchment layer before being sent to be graded and bagged. The washed process creates a clearer, more vibrant taste; showcasing the natural flavour of the bean without the integration of the surrounding fruit.
One Process isn’t necessarily better than the other. Both ways bring a unique taste and a beautiful aroma to your cup when combined with a high-quality bean. Trying beans that have been processed differently is a fantastic way to experience new taste profiles and really get to know your coffee.