Many people always pride you on knowing various coffee types, roast levels, and brewing techniques. However, only a handful, acknowledge that brewing with natural or washed coffee beans dictates the taste and flavors you get.
With the washed coffee, you extract the green coffee beans from the coffee cherries, ferment them, wash them, and allow them to dry. However, when it comes to natural coffee, you leave the coffee cherry and beans intact during the drying period. And separate them after they dry.
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Natural Coffee Overview
You can refer to this process as unwashed coffee. It is the oldest coffee beans preparation method. Many regions with limited water supply, like Brazil and Ethiopia, mainly use this method.
With this natural method, you do not separate the coffee beans and the coffee cherry after harvesting. They remain intact during the drying process. The drying duration depends on the climate of the area and the region itself.
Generally, it takes two to six weeks for the coffee beans drying process to be complete. Once the beans are dried, you remove the coffee seeds from the fruit cherries. The final coffee beans are full-flavored and fruity in taste, ready for roasting.
Washed Coffee Overview
Here, is another way of preparing coffee beans that have gained unprecedented popularity worldwide. You can also refer to it as a wet process. Just like natural coffee, you first need to harvest the coffee fruits from your farm.
However, this process involves separating the green coffee beans from the cherry fruit using a depulper before drying, unlike natural coffees where the two dry together.
Again, you have to wash and ferment the coffee beans prior to the drying process. The fermentation time varies due to various factors like the coffee beans type and weather. In most cases, it ranges between 18-24 hours. Finally, you dry the beans.
The Difference Between Natural Versus Washed Coffee
Now that you have seen the overview of both, what is the difference between natural and washed coffee?
Coffee Seeds Extraction
For natural coffee, you dry your coffee cherries and coffee beans while still together. You separate them after they have dried. With the washed coffee, you obtain the coffee beans from the coffee cherry before the drying process.
The washed coffee process involves placing your green coffee beans in a tank to ferment. You can leave them there for about 18-24 hours before removing them, washing, and drying them.
When it comes to the natural coffee process, coffee seeds are sundried with coffee cherries. Through that, they naturally obtain wild yeast from the skin and flesh of the coffee cherry. The wild yeast then ferments the coffee seeds.
The fermentation taste in natural coffees is strong than in washed coffees. Probably, it is because you have to control the fermentation process for the washed coffee.
Taste in the Cup of Coffee
There is a difference in taste from one washed coffee cup to the other. But overall, washed coffee gives you a complex, crispy, and clean brew. Also, you get to taste a wide range of coffee flavors within the coffee brew.
Additionally, since coffee farmers control every step of the washed coffee beans, you tend to get consistent flavors, which is not possible with natural coffee. Also, washed coffees are light-bodied with acidic notes.
On the other hand, Natural coffee gives you a complex, rich, and fruity cup of coffee. That’s because the coffee is sundried with the coffee cherries. It makes them retain flavors and extract the fruity juice from the cherries.
Use of Water
Natural coffee requires less water during processing compared to the washed coffee. That’s why those regions with a scarcity of water widely adopt this coffee processing method.
The washed coffee requires a lot of water to process. After harvesting, you need to put them in a tank of water to aid the fermentation process. Also, you have to wash them before drying.
Processing Procedures For Natural And Washed Coffees
While the difference between the two types of coffees is subtle, preparing them isn’t as hard as some may think.
Natural Coffee Preparation Process
- Harvesting –You can handpick or use a machine to harvest healthy coffee cherries.
- Sun-drying -From the farm, you take the coffee cherries to the drying phase. Some spread them on cement, others on bricks or raised beds. The purpose is to ensure that the coffee cherries dry evenly.
Several factors determine how long it will take your cherries to dry.
- Farmer’s preference
- The climate of the region
- Regular Ranking and Rotating the Cherries –The reason is to slow down the natural fermentation process. Also, rotation of the coffee cherries reduces the risk of them building molds or rotting under the sun. This step is tedious but vital to avoid over-fermentation and mold growth.
- Rest of the coffee cherries -After drying the cherries, leave them to rest for a particular time before moving to the next stage.
- Hulling –Take the cherries to millers to extract the coffee beans from the coffee cherries.
Washed Coffee Preparation Process
- Sorting –After picking the coffee cherries from the farm, you sort them to separate the healthy coffee cherries from the poor-quality ones.
- Pulping – Coffee cherries pass through a depulper to extract the green coffee beans from the cherry fruit. At this stage, there are remains of mucilage surrounding the coffee seeds.
You might be wondering what mucilage means. It is a sugary and sticky layer around the bean. It remains around the coffee seeds after removing the cherry fruit’s outer skin and flesh.
- Fermentation process -The coffee beans undergo fermentation in a water tank for one to two days. In the process, the coffee beans obtain some sugars from the mucilage.
- Wash the beans – When the fermentation process is complete, the coffee beans receive a thorough wash to remove the remaining mucilage.
- Drying –The drying process can be through a mechanical dryer or the sun. Like natural coffee, several factors determine the drying duration.
So, Which Way to Go?
Now, many people feel overwhelmed in deciding the kind of coffee they want. Some prefer a light-bodied coffee drink, while others aim for a rich and heavy-bodied coffee beverage. Therefore, I would say the decision to choose washed or natural coffee is a matter of preference.
However, if you are looking for a light-bodied coffee drink with consistent flavors, I recommend you go for the washed coffee. But if you love rich and heavy-bodied coffee, don’t hesitate to choose natural coffee.
The ball is in your hands now. How do you want your coffee to taste? It is clear, the coffee beans processing method dictates the taste and flavors of your coffee drink. So, decide whether you will choose to use natural coffee or washed coffee.