When you select specialty coffee at your favorite roastery, you probably seek out beans from a favorite region or in a particular roast. But you also might see a note on the packaging indicating that it’s a wet-washed coffee. This piece of information refers to how the farmers process their beans, and many connoisseurs believe it makes a better cup of coffee.
At Equiano Coffee, we know that the first step in creating a fantastic brew is to work with excellent farmers. We build relationships with the growers so that we understand their methods and processes. This knowledge helps us deliver high-quality beans for your coffee-drinking pleasure.
Why Are Beans Processed?
In modern health circles, processed foods and drinks are the bad guys. The word “processed” denotes that something is less healthy than it should be. But when it comes to coffee, beans must be processed to become usable.
Coffee beans are actually from the fruit of the coffee plant. Typically, each fruit, which looks similar to a cherry, has two seeds inside. These seeds are what we think of as coffee beans. Sometimes, the cherry has one large seed, and this is called a peaberry.
As they are when first harvested from the fruit, the beans are not ready for consumption. The beans have a layer of mucilage and a thin skin surrounding them. The mucilage contains much of the bean’s aroma and flavor.
The process of separating the beans from the cherry without compromising quality is a crucial and challenging step. Growers generally use either a wet-washed or natural method to do this.
Natural vs. Wet-Washed Coffee Processing
The oldest method of processing coffee beans is the natural, or dry, option. To process beans this way, farmers leave the fruit intact to dry in the sun on raised beds or patios. After sufficient drying, workers separate the beans from the cherry.
Many farmers do not have consistent or adequate water access, so they use the natural process for their fruit. When successful, dry processing gives a fruit-forward flavor to the beans. However, it can also go poorly and create a bad-tasting bean.
On the other hand, wet-washed coffee involves separating the beans and mucilage from the pulp of the fruit first. Workers submerge the liberated beans in water to ferment for a few days. After fermentation, they wash the coffee beans to remove the remaining mucilage.
Water processing is the newer method of the two, but it has quickly become the preferred option. It is difficult and time-consuming and requires a lot of water. But the resulting taste and aroma make the work worth the effort.
How Does Processing Impact the Flavor?
When it comes to the flavor of coffee beans, there are many factors at play. Everything from the soil conditions to the growing altitude influences the taste of the beans. So it makes sense that the style of processing would also play a role.
Wet-washed coffee lovers often state that the resulting brew has a “clean” taste. Because the processing happens outside of the cherry skin, the bean’s intrinsic flavor is at the forefront.
Connoisseurs believe water processing allows the most authentic flavors of the coffee beans to come through. The terroir of the fruit is evident in the wet-washed coffee’s tasting notes. Water-processed beans also tend to offer more consistency in the final roast.
Natural processing frequently creates a sweeter and more robust cup of coffee. However, it also carries the risk of the beans getting moldy before they dry all the way through. Although this method is simpler, it is less consistent in its results.
Deciding whether one process is better than another simply comes down to preference. If you prefer a creamier and more robust flavor in your coffee, choose a dry-processed bean. But if you enjoy a bright and lively acidic taste, then wet-washed is the way to go.
Your budget can also come into play when choosing one process over the other. Generally, water-processed beans cost more than dry-processed.
Equiano Offers Plenty of Variety
No matter what type of coffee you enjoy, Equiano Coffee has something for you. Our single varietals come from farms around the world, providing a wide range of tasting notes. And the majority of our options are wet-washed coffee beans. Shop online or stop in and see us at our tasting room in Eugene, OR, for a perfect cup of coffee.