Natural v Washed, You What?!
In 2015 I visited Araku Valley which lies in the state of Andhra Pradesh in South East India. There I came across this incredible social and environmental “experiment” being organised by the NGO NAANDI. They are endeavouring to keep the culture and traditions of the peoples who live in this area alive by ensuring that the farmers get a sustainable price for their produce. On top of that they are re-building the eco-system through the planting of 1 million trees each year. For more insights take a look at my book “Big ideas for a small world”.
Frustratingly, we have been unable to get hold of their coffee “Indian Gems of Araku" for over a year. It seems no matter how good the cause, the competition for “original” coffee in the UK market is such that it’s tough to hit minimum viable volumes. But the good news is it’s back and we’ve jumped at the opportunity to re-stock a hugely popular coffee. Only this time we’re doing something different. We’re showcasing a coffee from a single origin that has been processed in two different ways. Washed v Natural.
Let me explain.
Washed - The coffee “cherry” is exactly that, a red (sometimes yellow) berry inside of which is found the green coffee bean. In order to get to the bean you need to remove the outer skin and pulp. It's how the producer chooses to do this that has a huge impact on the taste of the coffee in your cup.
The vast majority of coffee is “pulped” after being harvested. This means it’s put through what looks like a supercharged cheese grater where the outer skin and “pulp” is removed leaving you with a sticky coffee bean, known as parchment. From here the “parchment” coffee is washed to remove the sticky stuff or “mucilage” and any “floaters” i.e. defective coffee. The “parchment” coffee is then raked out on a patio where it is sun dried. Finally, the outer shell is hulled off to expose the “green” coffee bean. In essence that is how we arrive at “washed” coffee. The resultant drink has a “clean” taste and depending upon the roast colour, a gentle sweet finish. Find out more here.
Natural - This form of processing uses a lot less water. After harvesting the “cherry” is left intact. It will however still be put into a tank of water to help identify defective cherries. These “floaters” are removed and then the whole cherry is raked out on the patio to dry. The result is that the cherry becomes hard as both outer skin and pulp lose their moisture. Once the correct level of dryness has been achieved the skin and pulp are hulled off leaving the green coffee bean.
When the coffee reaches us there is quite a distinctive difference in the appearance of the “green” coffee. The washed has an even olive green appearance whereas the natural is more uneven in colour with a mixture of greens and browns.
The taste is markedly different. Whilst there is a hint of fruit in the washed version, the natural is bursting with fruitiness. For those of you old enough to remember it’s a bit like the smell of fruit gums you got from the “pick n mix” counter at Woolworth’s. This comes through in the taste and delivers a really funky coffee.
Indian Gems of Araku is a Fairtrade organic coffee and it could also be the first carbon positive coffee (we’re still doing the research). Given what they are doing, it made sense for this to be the first coffee that we’ve brought into Jersey in both washed and natural format. It’s altogether an extraordinary story.