Natural vs. Washed Coffee 101
Author | groundwork coffee Date | January 29, 2020
This month we launched Seasonal Select - El Palto, a natural light roast coffee from Peru. Natural coffees, as compared to washed, are a minority in our family of single origins.
More so than origin or brew method, the biggest factor (outside of roast) that actually determines how a coffee will taste is its wash process, i.e. how the coffee bean is removed from the cherry. There are two primary ways of processing coffee. The first, and most common, is "washed." In this case the layers protecting the coffee bean, the skin, mucilage and parchment, are removed before the coffee is dried. This is done through a mixture of water, gravity and squeezing. The second method is "natural" or "dry processed." In this process, the cherries are harvested and allowed to dry in the sun over a few weeks. This process works best in dryer climates where the risk of over-fermenting is lower and requires precise monitoring to make sure the beans are regularly turned and dried evenly.
How do these processes affect the taste? Washed coffees tend to have higher levels of acidity, creating a cleaner and lighter body. Whereas a natural processed bean may take on more flavor from the fruit since it's spent more time in contact. This allows the fruity sugars to develop within the coffee seed. When roasted, these extra sugars caramelize, creating a coffee that naturally tastes like sweet, candied berries.
Overall, natural coffees are more "fruit forward" and full bodied, whereas washed coffees are truer to the taste of the coffee bean alone. It's important note that one process is not better or worse, nor "cleaner" or "dirtier" than the other. There are pros and cons to both. Natural processed coffee uses less water. Whereas washed coffee exposes producers to less financial risk if a batch spoils during processing. At the end of the day, it really comes down to preference and taste.
Pick up a bag of El Palto in our online store and try out a natural coffee for yourself. The Limited Edition light roast single origin has notes of Mission fig, red grape and dried orange. It's full bodied with an intense finish. Peru El Palto is available for a limited time. If you'd like to learn more about washed versus natural processing, additional resources are below.