Monthly Archives: July 2018

The Washed process (or Wet Process or Lavado)

The first step in the process is that the coffee cherries are sorted either by hand on tables or by placing them in a flotation tank where the ripe cherries will sink and the unripe ones will float. The next stage is the so-called depulping where the coffee cherry is split and squeezed to remove both the outer skin and the fruit pulp. This can be done by using a mechanical depulper (sort of a large blender) or simply by jets of high-pressure water.

Mechanical depulper in Guatemala

After depulping the coffee beans are still covered by a resilient sticky layer called mucilage. Its tenacity is due to a combination of sugars and pectin and the best way to remove it from the coffee beans is by means of fermentation.

Beans with mucilage
Left over cascara after depulping

The beans are placed tanks for 12 to 72 hours to ferment.  During this period the pectin in the mucilage is broken down through the activity of enzymes. The duration of the fermentation depends on a number of factors such as altitude, ambient temperature, volume of coffee, type of beans. The fermentation period will also affect the coffee flavour so knowing when to stop is crucial. If the fermentation takes too long unwanted flavours can creep in, but when properly timed washed coffees can develop a distinctive clean acidity. “Cleanliness” is a term used in coffee to indicate the absence of any negative flavour, such as  harshness or astringency.  In Kenya it is common to do two fermentation periods to achieve certain quality of flavour or appearance. These coffees from Kenyan are bright and fruity.

Fermentation tanks

Following a wash with clean water the beans are place to dry under the sun.  As with natural dry processed beans (see http://www.engrano.nl/blog/2017/02/13/natural-or-dry-processed-coffee/) beans can be dried in patios, lying on the ground or placed on raised tables. The tables have the advantage of lifting the beans from the ground so that contamination with stones or other plants can be avoided and improving air circulation around the beans whilst high temperatures should be avoided. During the drying process the beans should be gently rotated. Farmers also take the opportunity to sort through the parchment-covered coffee beans by hand removing the damaged ones. Depending on the weather conditions the drying period could take up to 21 days.

Parchment-covered beans drying on the ground and at raised beds

Once dry, the parchment-covered beans look light beige coloured. To remove the parchment the beans are moved to a dry mill after which comes sorting and packing of the green beans.

This process is more expensive than the natural and hybrid process. It involves a precious and sometimes scarce resource: water. On one hand, removing the mucilage greatly reduces the chance of something going wrong during the coffee processing which may lead to a higher value for the coffee. On the other hand, the wet process is not a warranty of quality. Defectives beans are not uncommon and fermentation can be unpredictable. An environmental concern about this process is due to the eventual fate of the waste water, which can be toxic.

Usually the flavour of washed coffees can be described as a clear acidity profile, light-to-medium body, usually with citrus tones. If you have the opportunity to taste coffees from the same origin but that have been processed both as washed and as dried and you will notice the difference!

Washed beans (left) and natural beans (right) both from Cariamanga, Ecuador – green
Washed beans (left) and natural beans (right) both from Cariamanga, Ecuador – roasted

Coffee tour in Antwerp

Antwerp is not only an important port in Europe but also the World’s Largest Coffee port. There are 45000 tons of green coffee in stock in the port at any given moment. Since this amount of coffee is not consumed in Belgium, Antwerp is an important point for transport of beans to the rest of Europe. So much coffee coming in and out has an effect on the city that has an increasing amount of baristas brewing the best coffees they can get their hands on. No more needs to be said: the Antwerp coffee scene deserves a tour on a sunny day in June!

Caffenation, the pioneers
Rob Berghmans and his Caffenation are pioneers in the Antwerp coffee scene. You may have seen their bright coloured bags in bars throughout Europe. He started in 2010 the first Belgian specialty micro roastery. Since then they have kept their focus on quality, origin and well trained collaborators. I visited the coffee bar next to the roastery that is located in the south of the city at walking distance from the train station Berchem. Unfortunately I was not able to visit the roastery itself. Having tasted very nice Caffenation coffees in different places in the Netherlands my expectations were high, very high. The personnel were friendly and talkative. The barista recommended me to have an espresso with bourbon washed beans from Rwanda Nyamasheke Macua although it was not his favourite coffee. That confused me but I ordered it anyway. To my surprise my espresso had almost no crema, eventhough I was waiting for it next to the barista and the espresso machine.  The barista worked by the book weighting the portafilter and ground coffee, extracting it in less than 30 seconds and serving it immediately. The coffee was roasted two weeks before so well, then still it must have been the brewing technique that killed the crema. The aroma floral and spicy was promising but I was not impressed with the flavour with a bitterness as from black tea and unpleasant cider acidity. The aftertaste was salty, as described by the tasting note next to my espresso, but it was bitter too.

Caffenation Bar Roastery and its nice bright bags

Cuperus, the legend
In the downtown I found Cuperus, the oldest coffee and tea bar in Antwerp. This former family business has been supplying the city with coffee for more than 190 years. Besides serving warm drinks and sweets, this is a proper coffee and tea store where you would have a hard time choosing what to bring home. Their old-style cans reminded me of their long tradition. Here too, the personnel was helpful and friendly. The espresso of the day was a Bourbon and Catuai from Serra do Cigano, Brazil. My cup had a good crema, fruity aroma and medium body. It tasted a bit sweet, hints of stone fruits and serious nutty flavour. I enjoyed it! Which was not a surprised since it was a natural processed bean roasted light from Latinamerica, more or less my type of coffee.

First stop in the downtown: Cuperus

Normo, the hipsters
A short walk from Cuperus I walked into Normo. This place felt more of a third-wave coffee place than the previous. Here I had a very professional yet stressed barista trying to cope with a queue of costumers waiting for their turn to order coffee combined with a constant flow of costumers returning empty cups. Maybe I was there on the wrong time. Nevertheless, my espresso was well extracted and served with a quick smile. The espresso blend had 70% Catuai natural from Agua Limpia, Brazil plus 30% Ethiopia Limu washed. Interesting combination that results in a medium body, clean cup with good balance between an apple acidity, hints of walnuts, sweetness and savoury notes.

Normo, a must in Antwerp

Teakoff, the hidden jewel
Between my necessary waffle break (I cannot be in Antwerp and go back without enjoying a good waffle) and the visit to the Museum Platin-Moretus (highly recommended) I realized that I was not going to be able to visit all the coffee places in my list. I was heading towards Viggo’s which was a must-visit in my list when a blackboard caught my attention. It announced a specialty coffee place that I was not aware of. Curiosity took the lead making me forget about the other places that I wanted to visit and I walked a block to find Teakoff, a cozy tea and espresso bar. I had a nice chat with the owner/barista Sofia. She served me an espresso brewed with coffee from Huehuetango, Guatemala. The blend of Bourbon, Catuai and Caturra washed beans was roasted by Cross Roast, an Antwerp roastery. It had more body than any other espresso I tasted that day. It was a balanced cup with hints of citrus fruits, slight bitterness and a sweet aftertaste. For me this was the best espresso of the day!!

Best espresso!

Antwerp has more places worth visit so I will have to come back. Stay tuned!