Buying coffee can be tricky. You’re at the local coffee shop, browsing for a weird and wonderful new variety to try. You’ve looked at the packet to see the growing region, the acidity level; you’ve checked that it’s Fair Trade and, of course, the bean variety. Then you come across a term you’re unfamiliar with: wet-processed.
You look up at the guy behind the counter. He’s waxing lyrical, to another customer, about how you should never pour boiling water directly over coffee. This barista seems like a real expert—and suddenly you don’t feel like asking him about wet-processing anymore. We’ve all been there. But fear not, I have been investigating and have some answers to your wet-processing questions!
Simply put: wet-processing is a method of removing the layers surrounding the coffee bean. Many regions whose coffee is known for its acidity, will process their beans using the wet-process. Unlike the dry process—which leaves the cherry to fall away in the sun—wet-processing separates the bean from the cherry using a procedure called “de-pulping”.
Photo by Kao Jai Coffee
Here is a (very simplified) overview of how the wet-process works:
- Once the farmers have picked and sorted through the fruit, they put the ripe cherries into a machine known as a wet mill.
- These wet mills shake the fruit, helping to pulp and remove the skin from the cherries.
- Nothing goes to waste as the coffee skins can be used for compost on the farm.
- The fruit is ‘floated’ in water so that any dried cherries can be removed.
- It is then washed and moved into a fermentation tank, where the mucilage (the pulp of the fruit) is broken down, so it can be washed off the bean.
- When the beans are fully separated from their fruit components, they are taken outside, to the dry mill, to be dried in the sun.
There you have it: wet-processing!
Finally, and most importantly: how does wet-processed coffee taste? Coffee made this way tends to be characterised by a clean, delicate-bodied and complex flavour with a well-balanced acidity. So if you like great tasting coffee made with true craftsmanship, then pick up a pack of wet-processed coffee today.
Here are three to try: