August's Roaster's Choice Coffee Box subscribers will be trying 'Raimutin Washed', a naturally processed coffee in the village Raimutin in Timor-Leste.
All coffee needs to be processed before it can be sold to roasters. In a broad sense, this means removing the fruit from around the seeds (coffee) and drying the seeds to a sufficient level that it can be hulled (to remove outer parchment) and then exported. The order that this is done however can have a huge impact on flavour.
Naturally processed coffees are sun-dried and then have the fruit removed, whereas washed coffees are removed of all fruit before the drying commences. The difference in how these two processes will end up tasting is all down to the surrounding fruit (or lack of).
During natural processing the coffee fruit ferments in the sun which causes specific flavours to intensify and totally new flavours to form that are then absorbed into the bean and the eventual cup.
In washed processed coffee the coffee is first de-pulped to remove skin and fruit and then the coffee is ‘washed’ in large tanks of water. During this washing (15-18 hrs in the case of the Raimutin) enzymes form and break down the last of the fruit attached to the coffee seed. What emerges is a clean coffee that is then dried on raised beds until the desired moisture level is reached.
Naturally processed coffees
Naturally processed coffees are typically sweeter, bigger tasting, generally have lower acidity and can create all types of exotic flavours in the final cup. This method, however, is sometimes criticised as the flavours created by fermentation can be argued to be independent of the impact of terroir and masking the true taste of the coffee. When done poorly - and fermentation is not controlled or allowed to carry on too long - the result can be overly boozy, funky and unpleasant to drink.
Washed coffees, on the other hand, impart no flavour on the coffee from the processing. In fact - all fruit is removed and, with it, anything that could potentially obscure the pure taste of the coffee’s origin. Coffees that are washed processed require fresh clean water which can be hard to come by in some producing communities but generally results in more consistency in taste, brighter, cleaner acidity and more complex taste profiles. For this reason, they are usually the clearest way to test the ‘origin’ of a coffee.
So why wash coffee?
Is there a best way to process? Both methods (there is also an in-between method known as ‘honey’ + other variations emerging all the time) have their merits and it could be argued suit different styles of coffee or suit different purposes. Some people, and even whole coffee drinking nations, usually have a preference.
The truth is it’s really up to the drinker which is why we’re presenting here the washed coffee from a farm we’ve previously featured so you can decide for yourself!