unwashed coffee

Washed & Unwashed Coffee- What’s The Difference?

Most people simply pour their store bought coffee into their coffee filter every morning and lazily brew up a pot of wake up juice to get their day going. But you are different. You have chosen to open your eyes to the world of coffee around you so you can truly experience the art of growing, preparing and brewing coffee. Good for you. You will experience a level of enjoyment when drinking coffee that only a select few will ever have.

After you spend a little time diving in and learning about coffee, you will quickly find that there are several ways to prepare the coffee long before it is ever poured into a bag for you to take home. In fact, there are many different ways that coffee is prepared with two of the main preparation methods being washed and unwashed coffee. Each of these methods brings its own strengths and weaknesses to your coffee table and can greatly impact the flavor of your coffee long before it reaches your French press or drip coffee maker.

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Understanding the Bean

First, it is important to understand what the coffee bean is and how it is prepared. Understanding at least a little bit about this process can help you understand why some coffee tastes differently from others and can help you predict how some coffee could taste when you venture out into the world to try new and interesting coffees.

Coffee is actually a fruit, not a bean like many believe. And you truly know the coffee fruit looks like cherries. The coffee cherry is usually a red or yellow fruit that contains two seeds that are surrounded by a soft layer of mucilage and a thin skin known as the parchment. The processing of coffee begins with the cherry harvested from the plant. Once it is harvested, the bean must be separated from the cherry without losing the aroma that is contained within the mucilage.

Washed Coffee

Washed coffee, also referred to as the wet process, the coffee cherry is pulped by a machine referred to as a pulper. Big surprise there. This means that the outer layer of skin is removed. Once this outer layer has been removed, the bean with is mucilage is then fermented in water for at least one to two days and sometimes longer. After the fermentation process, the bean is then washed from its mucilage after it has released its aroma.

Of all the coffee processing methods, this method often produces the highest quality coffee. However, it requires a lot of skill and water in order to perform correctly. Some of the world’s finest (and often most expensive) coffees are created using this process.

washed coffee

Unwashed Coffee

Unwashed coffee, also referred to as both natural coffee processing or the dry process, is what I would call the classic approach to coffee preparation. Basically, this is the oldest preparation method that has been in use for hundreds of years. In this process, first the coffee cherries are washed and then they are dried in the sun. Once the drying process is complete, the green seed is then removed from the fermented, dried cherry.

The removal of the bean is the most difficult and risky process when producing coffee using this method as there is very little control on the process of the bean removal. However, this process still doesn’t require as much skill as the washed process meaning it is a much easier process and is widely used among coffee producers around the world.

unwashed coffee

Semi-washed Coffee

Using the semi-washed method, aspects of both the washed and unwashed methods are combined. In this process, the out skins are removed, but the pulp is allowed to remain and dry in the sun. Once the drying process is complete, often the pulp is wet and then the beans are removed just like they are in the dry process.

Flavor Differences

While how you prepare your coffee definitely affects how your coffee will taste, how the coffee beans are prepared before roasting and brewing is the largest contributing factor to the flavor of the coffee we make every day. It may surprise you when you taste the differences in coffee processed in the washed and unwashed methods. Each coffee producer will undoubtedly claim that their method is the best, but in my experience both methods bring a wonderful variety to the coffee we pour for ourselves every morning.

Washed Method

This is a relatively new process to preparing coffee when you take a look at the long history of the human love affair with coffee. This process often creates a bean that is much cleaner and brighter and tastes much fruitier than the unwashed method. If you prefer your coffee to be a little more on the acidic side, finding a bean prepared using the washed method is essential.

Unwashed Method

The unwashed method, also known as the dry-process, creates a coffee that is heavy in body but remains sweet and very smooth and complex. In many cases, countries that have a very dry climate such as Indonesia, Ethiopia and Brazil use this method. These countries have plenty of sun to make sure that the beans are dried properly compared to many other areas.

coffee proccesed

Semi-Washed Method

The general consensus is the unwashed method produces a bolder coffee with more body and increased complexity, while the washed method produces a much more acidic coffee with enhanced clarity. Beans created using the semi-washed process are an attempt to combine the best of both worlds of the two methods, often giving a bolder coffee with increased acidity when compared to the other methods.

If you came to this post hoping to discover which type of coffee was better, I’m afraid you will read this without getting the answers you hoped. In the end it all comes down to your personal taste. Both the washed and the unwashed methods can create a truly amazing coffee bean that provides enough body and flavor to impress even the most critical of coffee aficionados. But, like everything in life, not everyone will agree. Some will prefer the fruitier tastes that the washed method brings while others will enjoy the sweeter full body coffees created by the unwashed method.

While these two different processes are quite distinct from one another, there is one thing they have in common. Both of these preparation methods can create a truly unique and amazing coffee experience that will delight your taste buds and keep you coming back for more day after day after day. If you want to find the best tasting coffee using these methods, I encourage you to get out there and experiment. Try coffees created using both methods and see which ones delight your tastes buds or cause you to have that sour face when you take a drink. You may find that you prefer one method over the other, or you may even enjoy both and be able to appreciate the subtle differences each preparation process brings to your coffee mug.


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