The beans in your coffee bag have completed a long journey before reaching you. Many interesting phases in this journey influence the end result of your cup. One such phase, a critical phase, is Coffee Processing.
Let’s take a look at washed processing, a leading method of preparing coffee for roasting in India.
Coffee Processing - An Overview
Before the coffee is roasted, farms remove the coffee seeds from the cherry and dry them. This industrial process is known as coffee processing. Each process has its own effect on the body, acidity and sweetness of the beans.
There are 3 major processing practices in India -
Natural (Dry) Processing - In this process, the full pulp of the coffee cherry is dried in the sun. Then, the skin and flesh of the fruit are removed mechanically to obtain green coffee.
Honey-Dried Processing - Here, the cherries are de-pulped mechanically but a specific amount of flesh is left on the beans. Then, the beans are laid out on drying tables in the sun before the fruit layers are removed to obtain green coffee.
Washed Processing - In washed process, cherries are soaked in tanks after the de-pulping for fermentation. Then they are washed again and dried in a method similar to that of natural processing.
Washed Processing in India
The washed coffee process is popular world-over for its cleaner, brighter coffee with distinct flavours. Given that India is a major coffee exporter, the method is favoured by farms. Additionally, there is a preference for clean and bright coffee among the growing Indian coffee drinking community.
Further, the washed process has been employed by Indian farms for many generations. This is due to the suitable climatic conditions and plenty of water availability in coffee growing regions.
Some estates that follow Washed process include Gungegiri, Udayagiri, Bloom Venkids Valley Estate, Thogarihunkal and Ratnagiri.
What is Washed Processing?
Before we ask what is washed processing, why do we process coffee? Once the coffee cherries are harvested, coffee is processed in particular ways to separate the seeds from the cherries.
In washed process, sometimes known as wet process, coffee cherries are soaked in large tanks before the pulp is removed. The process is popular because it preserves the characteristics of coffee (particularly, single-origin coffee) like no other process.
Let’s break down the process into steps to understand better.
After the harvest, the coffee cherries are compiled and put into water. Owing to its density, the ripe coffee will sink to the bottom of the tank and the unripe ones will float on the top. The unripe coffee is removed from the lot, the good ones are sent to the next step.
Additionally, contaminants like leaves and dust are removed from the fruits during this step.
The ripe cherries are thrown into a de-pulping machine. Here, the outer parts of the coffee (outer skin and pulp) are removed leaving behind only the mucilage layer. Then, the seeds come out of the machine ready for the next phase.
The coffee seeds with mucilage are sent into a large water tank through a channel. The coffee seeds are put through another round of sorting here - the seeds that float on the surface are removed.
After about 18 to 24 hours, the coffee seeds are soaked in water. This duration varies depending on the temperature and other region-specific conditions.
When soaked in water, the coffee seeds undergo fermentation. Here, microorganisms in the seeds create an enzyme that breaks down the mucilage.
This stage is largely responsible for the clarity and acidity of the beans.
After the fermentation stage, the beans are washed again with fresh water. The mucilage comes off during this step. Nonetheless, some farms use machines to ensure the complete removal of the layer.
At this stage, the coffee seeds are surrounded by 2 layers - the parchment and the silverskin. The drying method may vary from one farm to another.
Traditionally, they are spread out on raised beds or large spaces in the sun. Smaller farms tend to go for this method. The beans are raked every few hours for even drying and preventing bacteria growth.
On the other hand, larger farms employ mechanical dryers or a combination of drying under the sun and machines.
Either way, seeds are dried to have a moisture content of 10% to 12%.
After this final step, the coffee is called 'parchment coffee.' It will be further refined and made ready to store and ship.
What Does Washed Coffee Taste Like?
Washed process coffee tends to be brighter, have a lighter body and acidity than other coffee processing methods.
They also tend to have improved clarity without too much cloudiness. This process also retains its characteristics that are unique to its origin.
Besides, the brewed coffee will be very crisp and complex.
The washed process produces high-quality coffee beans in a shorter period. It takes about 5 to 10 days which is shorter when compared to other processes that take weeks. The steps are also more controllable which results in farms producing consistent coffee quality. That’s why, many farms prefer washed process for specialty coffee.
So, the next time you pick a bag of coffee with washed process on its label, you can be sure that it is filled with vibrant flavours and distinct notes true to its origin.