Washed vs Natural Coffees: A Tale of Two El Salvadors

This month we’re breaking with tradition, and revealing the identity of our July Discovery Coffee a little early! And with good reason - we just can’t wait to tell you about this delicious bean from northern El Salvador.

… But wait, don’t we already have a coffee from northern El Salvador? 

Distance between coffee farms in El Salvador

The reason, we promise, for choosing a second coffee from just over 50 miles (80km) northeast of our core range El Salvador is not because we have simply grown tired of sourcing new origins for our Discovery series. It is because our regular producer Tomas from Finca El Cipres specialises in natural processed coffee, whereas Gloria from Los Guachipilines creates distinct flavours using the washed process.

So we have washed and natural processed coffees in the same month. What’s the difference, and how can I tell them apart?

Washed vs Natural Coffee: Comparing Processing Methods

There are two principal methods for turning freshly picked coffee cherries into the little green beans that arrive ready for us to roast: washed, and natural. 

For a washed coffee, the clue is in the name - after pulping to remove their skins, the cherries are left to ferment in barrels for 12 to 48 hours. During fermentation, enzymes break down the remaining mucilage (sticky substance) attached to the seeds inside (what we call the beans). Finally the beans are washed in cold running water to remove any remaining mucilage, and dried in the sun until they reach the required moisture level.

natural process drying of coffee cherries at El Cipres farm El Salvador

Natural coffees are quite different, owing to their origins in the arid East African subcontinent. After picking, cherries are directly laid out to dry on the ground or on raised beds with their pulp intact. As the mucilage dries in the sun it shrinks revealing the beans within, at which point the husks are separated away (and occasionally turned into cascara, which is quite an experience to drink - if you can get hold of it!).

Taste the Difference

It goes without saying that these two different processing methods are going to yield different flavour profiles, and this is the real reason we went with a washed El Salvador for our July Discovery coffee.

red bourbon coffee cherries on el cipres farm el salvador

If you’ve not tried our Finca El Cipres natural from the wonderful Don Tomas Estate, you can expect a distinctive, tangy, fruit-forward cup with heavy notes of strawberry and caramel. It’s a funky flavour, and we always love seeing people’s reactions when we serve it during our popular coffee experiences. It makes a mellow, sweet cold brew and a truly out-there espresso, but where it really shines is as a filter coffee or cafetière. The gentle twang of fermentation coats your mouth that develops into a long, satisfying finish - if you like light, juicy red wines from Burgundy (or indeed the Surrey Hills!), then this is a must-try. 

Our July Discovery is a coffee of clean tones and subtlety. When brewed as a filter, an initial note of camomile tea relaxes into a gentle, nutty middle and a refreshing finish. If you like a delicate and intriguing journey to your coffee, then this one's for you. Being an omniroast it also tastes great as an espresso, with a honey sweetness that's great with milk as a flat white - a real all-rounder.

Sweet as Honey

While natural and washed coffees are the most popular methods of processing, it doesn’t end there - it’s possible to do something in between, known as a honey processed coffee. Read our article Honey Processed Coffee to learn more!

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