Everything you always wanted to know about wet-processing (but were afraid to ask)

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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”.

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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: