Washed Coffee Vs. Natural Coffee: The Basics

Have you been wondering what the difference is between washed coffee vs. natural coffee? Read on to discover what the differences mean for your coffee.

Washed coffee vs. Natural coffee
Washed coffee vs. Natural coffee

During my training at a new local roaster, I tried a natural, or unwashed, coffee for the first time. It was an instant favorite – the flavor was unlike anything I had ever tried. While I found many other “favorites” during my coffee career, that one moment is firmly rooted in my memories. If you have never seen a natural coffee, or have been wondering what it was, keep reading for an overview of what natural coffee is and how it differs from washed coffee.

What Are Washed and Natural Coffees?

The terms “washed” and “natural” refer to a specific stage during the process of turning the coffee cherry into a coffee bean. 

Washed coffee is just how it sounds. The beans are fermented and then washed in water, removing the mucilage layer from the outside of the bean along the way. It is an efficient system that produces a consistent flavor profile in the beans.

Natural coffee, also known as unwashed, is one of the oldest ways to process coffee beans. Believed to be hundreds of years old, you will find this process employed in dry climates. It is a longer process, as no water gets used. Instead, the beans get laid out to dry. They are raked and turned over regularly to ensure no rotting occurs. Again, It is a lengthier process, taking roughly 2-6 weeks. You may also be interested in our washed coffee vs. honey-processed coffee guide.

What Do They Have in Common?

green beans in a sack
Both processes require removing the mucilage for the preparation of the beans for the market

Really, they only have one main thing in common. Both processes remove the mucilage and help prepare the beans to go onto the market as green beans. 

The Differences Between Washed Coffee vs. Natural Coffee

We’ve already looked at the differences in their processing methods. In addition to that, washed and natural coffees tend to have significantly different flavor profiles. 

Due to the water used in the washing process, the mucilage gets removed from all washed beans. Since this is where most of the fruity flavor lives, you lose the keen fruit notes in washed coffee. What is left is the distinct flavors of the beans, which come through as very bright in most cases.

Unwashed coffee beans retain some of that mucilage during their drying process. The fruity flavor of a coffee cherry is in this mucilage layer. Because part of the mucilage layer gets retained, natural coffee has a deep, complex, fruity flavor profile. The coffee made from unwashed beans tends to be much smoother than that made from washed coffee.

Why is Washed Coffee Better?

washed coffee and unwashed coffee beans
Washed coffees are best for specialty coffee houses and roasters

Washed coffees require a higher level of skill to process. There is also more of a system to the processing method, which means you have a consistent flavor profile with each new batch. Washed coffees are ideal for specialty coffee houses and roasters for this very reason.

It is also why you will find washed coffees used in various coffee blends. Their consistent flavor profile can be relied upon when combined with other coffee varietals during the roasting process.

Why is Natural Coffee Better?

While washed coffee uses a significant amount of water for processing, natural coffee is the exact opposite. Natural coffee uses the heat from the sun to dry the beans out and let the mucilage fall off in the process. In our environmentally conscious world, conserving water is a bonus.

Natural coffee also has varied and unique flavor profiles. In addition, you can get a sense of the growing region or farm in each cup. 

Who Should Drink Washed Coffee

Washed coffees are for those who love a bright and powerful taste in their coffee cup. Go this route, especially if you like to drink your coffee black. The flavors will pop out in your mouth, and every cup will be enjoyable.

Who Should Drink Natural Coffee

For anyone who enjoys a mysterious depth to their coffee, look for naturally processed coffees. They have a distinct flavor and give you a deeper flavor profile without over-roasting the beans. If you like this post, you may be interested in learning if you can vape coffee.


  • Aisling O'Connor

    Aisling is an Irish food and drinks writer and journalist fueled by coffee and herbal tea. She followed up her journalism degree with nutrition studies. Find Aisling on LinkedIn.