Coffee Processing: Natural process vs washed coffee

Natural process coffee beans? Washed process? Tell me – are they really that different?

 

Processing is bad, right? It’s what makes chicken nuggets and pizza and all those other ultra-processed foods we hear about.

Ahh, but coffee processing is different. Coffee processing is the good, natural and Monosodium Glutamate-free kind of processing!

Take a look at your Two Chimps coffee label and you’ll see that we always state the coffee processing method. But what is ‘natural process’ coffee? And ‘washed coffee’ – what’s that all about? Let’s check them out in a simple natural process vs washed coffee comparison!

Pssst! One method makes your coffee beans taste a bit boozy! Keep reading to find out which…

Coffee grower hand-picking coffee cherries

 

What is Coffee Processing?

Coffee Processing is the act of removing the layers surrounding the coffee bean (the ‘seed’ of the coffee cherry). This takes place after growers pick the beans and before the roaster roasts them.

Coffee beans are sensitive souls. That’s why they grow protected beneath layers of skin, pulp, mucilage and parchment. This is great, but the beans need to get naked before we can roast them! The aim of coffee processing is to remove these outer layers without altering the bean’s loveliness.

farmer holding coffee cherries and green coffee beans

 

How is Coffee Processed?

It’s double trouble when we come to coffee processing! There’s not just one method – there are two! Quite a few more than two, actually, but it’s these two that coffee belt countries use the most:

  • Natural Process
  • Washed Process

The honey process (also called pulped natural) is the third main method. It’s a hybrid method often used by Central American producers. But this is a natural vs washed head-to-head, so the honey process will have to toot-a-loo for now.

Coffee beans drying on patios in Costa Rica

 

What is Natural Process Coffee?

Coffee processing methods like to spoil themselves with multiple names. So the natural process is called the ‘dry’ or ‘sun-dried’ as well as ‘natural’. Likewise, you might hear the washed process called ‘wet’ processed coffee.

The natural process is the oldest and most traditional coffee processing method. We often find it in coffees from Ethiopia and Brazil. Here, the growers allow the whole coffee cherry to dry out before separating the bean from the outer layers.

Red coffee cherries drying on a patio

 

Let’s zoom in and take a closer look.

After the growers harvest the coffee cherries, they spread them out on patios or tables. This allows the beans to dry in the sun and go wrinkly like a raisin. They are turned regularly for good air circulation and no mouldiness.

Once they reach 10-12% moisture, machines remove the outer layers surrounding that lovely coffee bean.

The idea is pretty simple, but it takes skill to get natural process coffee spot on. The natural sugars in the beans begin to ferment as they rest in the sun. When done well, this natural fermentation produces fabulous fruitbowl flavours. Not done well? Beans left to sit without plenty of turning? They might taste funky.

Don’t worry – they’ll only be freshness in your natural process coffee from Two Chimps. That’s because we source from speciality growers who Know Their Stuff!

Coffee growers turning natural process coffees with rakes

 

What is Washed Coffee?

Splish splash, the coffee’s taking a bath! Unlike the natural process, washed processing involves water. It also sees the producers lay the beans out to dry after separating them from their outer layers.

Fasten your seatbelts. We’re zooming in again!

Flesh removal is the first step in the process, as a depulper machine strips most of the fleshy outer layers from the picked cherries.

Wet Coffee processing machine in Guatemala

 

Then, it’s bath time! Cherry fruit flesh contains pectin, which is a strong little customer and attaches the fruit firmly to the seed. However, the fermentation that happens when we put the seeds in a water tank breaks this flesh down.

Unripe cherries also sink to the bottom of the tank – this means you get perfectly ripe cherries for your coffee. Nothing less!

Fermentation doesn’t take long – usually 24-72 hours. It takes less time in hotter climates.

Next, the coffee is washed to remove the stripped flesh. It’s now clean but a bit soggy… so it’s time for drying! Producers spread their washed beans on brick patios or drying tables for a spot of sunbathing. This part is pretty similar to the first stage of the natural process.

 

Coffee processing methods infographic

 

And Then? Where Does the Coffee go after it is Processed?

Here’s what happens after the processing stage:

Resting

The processed coffee beans are left in peace for 30-60 days. This is often called ‘reposo’ and is important for keeping the beans’ moisture content stable and making sure they age well.

 

Speciality offee beans resting in a dry warehouse

 

Hulling

At this stage, there’s still one layer snuggling around the bean. This is the protective parchment. Hulling at a dry mill strips the parchment away and makes sure the beans are truly, truly naked. Oh, la la!

Coffee processing equipment in El Salvador

 

Sorting and Grading

Examining and grading come next. Workers sort speciality beans by hand, which is time-consuming but so worth it – it means perfect beans and ah-may-zing coffees!

Workers hand-sorting coffee beans in Rwanda

 

Exporting

Finally, the lovely beans make their way into strong jute sacks, each 60 or 69kg in weight, so they can be shipped to roasters like us!

speciality coffee sacks

 

Does Coffee Processing Affect Flavour?

Most coffee producers don’t have flavour in mind when selecting their processing method. It’s more about what they can do in their country’s climate and with the resources they have to hand.

 

Flavour of naturally processed coffees:

  • Fruity – often blueberry or tropical
  • Sweet cup profile
  • Sometimes a bit boozy!
  • Heavier body
washed and natural process coffee beans laying out on the ground

 

Flavour of washed processed coffees:

  • Heightened acidity and brightness
  • Clean taste
  • Complex
  • Lighter body
Coffee cherries in flotation tank

 

Natural process vs washed coffee… which will you prefer? Try them both in our online shop!

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