When you purchase a bag of coffee (preferably from Sagebrush), you will notice three primary descriptors: the roast profile, flavor notes, and processing method. The processing method is a factor that is relatively unknown and often overlooked by coffee consumers, yet it is critical to the overall flavor profile of coffee. In a brief description, a processing method refers to the technique used to transform a ripe coffee cherry into the green coffee exported to roasters. How coffee is plucked, washed, and dried will influence the mouthfeel, aroma, and taste. There are three processing techniques coffee producers use: Natural (or dry), Honey (or pulped natural), and the widely popular, Washed (or wet) process. Today, we will further discuss the washed processing method.
The majority of the coffee you drink or find at the store is washed coffee. Of the three processing methods, washed is the most reliable technique and has a higher likelihood of producing successful flavor characteristics. They are the type of coffees I often recommend beginner or home roasters to start out with because they create a consistent roast and are more difficult to burn. Because it is such a popular method, washed coffees are often viewed as being not as good or unique. I have not found that to be the case whatsoever. Washed coffees consistently score very well all over the world and are some of our best-selling coffees.
The wet-processed method starts with completely removing the outer skin and soaking the beans in water. While the beans are immersed in the water, the pulp (or mucilage) covering the beans are agitated by a de-pulping machine until it eventually falls off. The next step is fermentation, where the coffee beans are submerged in water ranging for a few hours to even a couple of days. The amount of time is dependent on climate, the type of equipment used, and the personal preference of the producer. Once the fermentation is complete, the beans are rinsed and then dried outdoors on a raised bed or with a mechanical dryer. The drying technique used will decide how long this final step takes. The order of fermenting and then drying allows more control over the process, thus producing a more consistent coffee. The process is water-intensive and traditionally more expensive, but the reliability and decreased risk of ruining an entire crop can make up for the cost.
The way a washed coffee tastes has a lot to do with this method. The word “clean” is often used to describe the flavors of washed coffees. Unlike the natural and honey processes, where a lot of the flavor comes from the fruity sugars of the pulp left on the beans, most of the flavor found in washed coffees come from the bean itself. You tend to get more of the characteristics unique to that origin and varietal in the beans. For this reason, it is essential to pick beans that have a naturally flavorful profile. Although not as fruity as natural coffees, washed coffee beans almost always produce a cleaner cup with a lively acidity. In a Latin American coffee, a washed bean is going to show more of the caramel or nuttiness so prevalent in that region.
Washed coffees are a delight to brew, and various brewing techniques will make a delicious cup. One of my favorite ways to brew a washed coffee is with a French Press. I love French Presses because they are easy to use, and like washed coffees, produce a very consistent brew. Unlike your typical drip machine, the French Press does not use a filter, which allows the grounds to steep and retain their natural oils. This brewing method is a wholly aromatic experience that will enable you to discover the unique flavor nuances of various washed coffees.
The next time you are on our site searching for your new favorite coffee, I recommend focusing on the processing method. From the initial plucking of the coffee seed, so much manipulation takes place to produce the drink we know and love. Discover for yourself the wide range of flavors in washed coffees, from dark chocolate to citrus, with our specially chosen selections.
Whole Bean: Unground coffee for a home grinder.
Coarse: Think sugar in the raw, maybe more coarse, recommended for Chemex Brewer, French Press, Cold Brew
Medium: Slightly coarser than table salt, recommended for Metal Kone filters, Flat bottom brewers including Kalitta, Cloth filters
Fine: Slightly finer than table salt, recommended for V60 pour overs, Cone filter coffee pots, Moka Pot, Aeropress.
Extra Fine: Like powdered sugar, recommended for Espresso.
If at all possible, we recommend grinding at home. We prefer Baratza coffee grinders and offer several of their models for sale. Click here to shop for one of their brewers.