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  • QA 178
    Question:
    What are the differences between Pulped Natural, Semi-Washed and Washed coffee?
    Background:
    We are trying to find a formal definition for Pulped Natural, Semi-Washed and Washed coffee. What are the differences between these processes and how does the quality of coffee they produce differ?
    Asked by:
    NGO - The Netherlands
    Answer:

    The International Coffee Agreement does not contain a specific definition of naturals, pulped naturals, washed or semi-washed. Consequently, whereas we believe the explanations provided below are generally accepted, we cannot claim they represent formal definitions…

    • Natural or sundried coffee: Cherries are dried whole and then hulled. Quality depends on the care taken during harvesting and drying but, usually, naturals produce more body (viscosity or fullness) in the cup. *
    • Pulped Natural: After floatation (remove lights, dried cherry etc), the cherries are pulped. The parchment is then dried with some or all of the mucilage adhering. This is an industrial process that delivers a more homogeneous and more attractive quality, without the harshness that can sometimes be encountered in naturals. **
    • Semi-washed: After pulping some or most of the mucilage may be removed from the parchment by washing. Mostly a manual process, using small hand driven or motorized pulping units.  Quality is variable as it often is quite irregular due to the mixing of many small quantities to produce an exportable quantity.
    • Washed: After pulping all mucilage is removed from the parchment. Can be done naturally through fermentation and washing, or mechanically using mucilage removers. This is an industrial process that produces a homogeneous end-product and accentuates certain taste elements such as acidity and flavour for example.

    It is our belief that the term semi-washed is relatively misleading because it is applied to different processes. In any event, in Central Africa the establishment of fully-fledged washing stations is rapidly replacing the production of semi-washed, leaving only some production in Asia. Production of Brazilian pulped naturals on the other hand is on the increase.

    Of course the term semi-washed does not convey a positive image. In this regard it is of interest to note that the first International Coffee Agreement (1963) spoke of unwashed arabicas. This was subsequently changed to Brazilian and other arabicas, precisely because the word unwashed conveyed an (undeserved) negative image.

    For the same reason we would suggest therefore that, over time, the market will apply just three main descriptions:  natural, pulped natural and washed. ***

    *    Please see topic 11.01.02 for a schematic overview of the different ways to process coffee cherries into green beans. Coffee quality and   processing generally are dealt with extensively in Chapter 11 of the Guide.

    **   The pulped natural process is described in more detail in Q&A 008 in the Q&A Archive on this website.

    *** Assuming of course no radically new process sees the light of day…

    Posted 07 February 2008

    Related chapter(s):
    Related Q & A:
    Q&A 008, 053