Washed/Wet vs Natural Coffee Processing

Washed/Wet vs Natural Coffee Processing

Jake Bonneman Jake Bonneman
5 minutes of coffee drinking

Ah, the classic debate of washed coffee vs. natural coffee—an age-old dilemma that has been the cause of sleepless nights for many a caffeine lover. Unresolved for generations, it has remained a mystery like the Seven Bridges of Königsberg.


But we're going to solve it here today.


That's right—appearing today on The Coffee Chronicles, we have exclusive information that will bring us all closer to understanding the subtle nuances between these two types of coffee.


After extensive tasting and research (read: 6 Google searches), we've come up with the final word on this confusing, caffeinated conundrum. And many Bothans died to bring us this information, so listen up:


Natural vs Washed (or "Wet") Coffees: What's the Difference?


Washed coffees have their fans: those who love a bright, clean taste profile, and vibrant acidity.


Natural coffees, on the other hand, have supporters who appreciate what they perceive as a deeper flavor experience, with more complexity and "fruit" flavor. (Coffee is a fruit, after all!)


Some say washed coffee has a stronger, "true-er" coffee flavor. Others say that washed coffee is for people who don't appreciate "true" coffee flavor, and like their caffeinated beverages as dull and unmemorable as a trip to Milwaukee. Suffice it to say, as in many other coffee debates, there are passionate proponents and detractors on both sides.


But what are they even arguing about?


In a nutshell, the difference between washed and natural coffee comes down to a single step in the processing stage.


Process This!


Before they make it into your coffee grinder—Hell, before they're even roasted—coffee beans have to go through a number of stages: from cultivation and harvesting to processing (sorting, drying, hulling, fermenting, etc.)


It’s during the processing stage that washed and natural coffees diverge in their methods.


All coffee beans start as coffee "cherries." The beans—well, technically they’re drupes, but let's not get into that here—are inside the fruit, surrounded by pulp.


Soon after they're harvested and sorted, the coffee takes one of two paths: either washed or natural processing.


How Do These Methods Differ?


Washed or wet-processed coffees start with freshly picked cherries like any other coffee. But what sets them apart is that after harvesting, the cherry skin and pulp are removed before the beans are dried. Water is then brought in to aid in the removal of the outer layer remnants.


Natural processed coffees skip this step—they’re left to dry in their cherry, pulp and all.


The end result? Marginally different flavor profiles.


As you might guess based on their processing methods, washed processed coffees often yield the cleaner, brighter cup with higher acidity, while natural processed coffees can bring forth a brew with “denser” flavor and heavier body/mouthfeel.


Which is Better, Washed or Natural Coffee?


That's a question with no answer. Except for this one: It's entirely up to your own taste and preference.


That's right, I'm here to say that it doesn't matter which side you come down on: there are good, bad, mediocre, and great coffees available on both sides.


But why bother coming down on one side at all?


Sure, on one hand, you could just pick a side and never really think about it again. There are so many variables involved in a cup of coffee—varietal/species, origin, roast profile, grind size, brewing method—that any differences between washed and natural coffee can easily be lost in the mix.


Or, you could take a stand and pick one side over the other. After all, there are some pretty passionate opinions out there on both sides of the debate. Washed coffee fanatics will obsessively preach about how it’s so much brighter and cleaner tasting, while natural coffee purists can’t help but tout its dazzling complexity.


But let's face it: two cups of coffee are better than one no matter which way you make them. So why not just agree that both variations have their place and call it a day?


Just make sure your coffee is strong, gives you the energy you need, and tastes great to you. 


Because let's face it: those are the most important things. Not some shop-worn abstractions about flavor nuances that don't even hold that true by the time the coffee makes it into your AeroPress (or Keurig).


No matter if you're Team Washed or Team Natural, there's just one thing that matters: Drink what you like! Or for a little extra pick me up, drink Black Insomnia's Strongest Coffee in the World!

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