Following up from our previous article on natural processed coffee, this time we’re talking about washed coffees, also known as wet or fully washed coffees.
As I said in the last post, all coffee goes through some sort of fermentation to help remove some layers of protection around the seeds and to impart certain flavours to the coffee. While natural coffees have higher body and more red berry, cherry and boozy flavours, washed coffees can be quite different.
Washed coffees, as the name implies, are reliant on quite a bit more water usage than natural coffees. So much so that Costa Rica does not allow coffee to be processed in this way. This isn’t to say that the water is just wasted, often it is treated to remove the high sugars that end up in the water which can cause algae blooms if dumped into water sources
Washed coffees are quite common in Central and South America, especially in places that get lots of rain, which can make it hard to dry coffees while still in cherry. After cherries are picked, they are floated to sort over and under ripe cherries. The cherries are then fed into a pulping machine which squeezes the cherries between 2 heavy rollers. If the width between the rollers are calibrated correctly then the seeds are popped out of the fruit without squishing the seeds. The seeds are still covered by silverskin and parchment which need to be removed via our favourite process… Fermentation!
Rather than leaving the seeds outside to dry and ferment in the sun, washed coffees are soaked in water, allowing fermentation to occur in a very different environment than a natural coffee. Sometimes the coffee soaks for only a few hours, or for a couple of days, with theseeds feeling like little stones when rubbed together when ready.
The fermentation process is still caused by native microorganisms from the environment and in the water, however the lack of oxygen and flesh/ skin from the cherries creates a very different environment for fermentation to occur. The resulting flavours are also quite different compared to natural process coffees. Where naturals are big bodied and boozy, washed coffees are lighter and have more bright, citrus acidity.
Washed coffees have been, for the most part, the preferred coffee as single origins for a long time. However, more recently natural processes are more in vogue…. Unless you talk to a lot of people in the coffee industry and then they’ll tell you to cut it out! But that’s just because we’re fussy and like lots of subtlety over big, bold coffees… most of the time.
Anyway… Go buy some coffee.