Washed vs. Natural Coffee with Ryan Stegert

Ryan Stegert or ‘Steg’ is the Head Roaster at Clandestino Roasters. He was the first employee when the roastery opened in 2011. Starting out as a Barista in our flagship cafe, over the years Steg’s role at Clandestino has evolved, having continuously gone from strength to strength. He is our main man sourcing and choosing the beans we offer.

 On a good day, Steg roasts between 500 – 600 kilograms. With a palate like no other, he is dedicated to keep the batches consistent and the curves smooth, always pushing the company further and look for that ‘special something’.

 Aside the fact that our two new Ethiopians are pretty delicious, they also have an interesting story to them. Guji Uraga Tome and Guji Genet have been grown in close proximity (in the Guji region) and shared similar climate, terroir and varietals. But because they were processed with two different methods, their flavour notes couldn’t be more unlike.

We caught up with Steg and talked about what’s the difference between washed and naturally why the process affects the flavour.

Ryan Stegert Clandestino Roastery

“Besides roasting, also the process of how the bean is extracted from the fruit translates in the final flavour in your cup.” – Ryan Stegert

When we look at the process that’s been used, washed coffee is still the most common coffee we come across today. Why is that?

The majority of the world’s coffee produced is washed. It’s because there is generally less risk involved for the farmers than there when producing naturals. 

During this process, the cherries are de-pulped, fermented and washed clean to remove the outer skin and mucilage off the bean. Then the beans are left to sun dry until reaching the ideal moisture content.

The process of washing coffee is a method that has been tried and tested and which allows for a good result. Most if not every single time.

Does that mean that with naturals, farmers have less control over the whole process?

The natural process looks like this: the farmers leave the fruit to dry naturally on African raised beds or concrete patios for up to 4 weeks in the full cherry prior to de-pulping. This way, the bean has more time to interact with the natural sugars from the cherry as enzymes break down the mucilage.

But if the beans are not turned around properly and often enough, they can go mouldy. The whole lot can be compromised. Especially if you are a farmer producing smaller amounts of coffee (like so many farmers in Ethiopia are), it can be a pretty big loss for you. Saying that, the farmers are getting better and better each year with naturals.

The other reason why some countries produce more naturals is that those countries don’t have much access to fresh water to use just for coffee processing.

Washing station in the Uraga region
Washed coffee depulped cherries are left to dry

Do some countries produce more naturals than washed coffees?

Almost 80% of the coffee production in Brazil are naturals and they really know how to do it well. For example, Colombia had a ban on experimental processing methods that has been lifted only recently. More growers there are starting to experiment with naturals. We’ve actually been cupping quite a lot of Colombian naturals recently.

How did you choose the two new single origins from Ethiopia – Guji Genet (natural) and Guji Uraga Tome (washed)?

We’ve been looking for a new Ethiopian, especially for a natural. We’d tried a few samples from the Guji region and the two we ended up choosing were the best ones. They just happened to be processed by two different methods.

Then we thought it could be interesting to give people a chance to compare them side by side. You’ll find out that besides the roasting style, also the method of how the bean is extracted from the fruit translates in the final flavour in your cup.

Would you say that naturals are on the rise?

They’ve always been popular amongst filter coffee drinkers because they have such an unique flavour bursting with red fruits. That said, Guji Genet is the only natural we offer at the moment – all other Clandestino beans are washed coffees so I’d say it’s pretty special.

Do you need to approach roasting differently based on the processing method?

The washed coffees generally have a higher moisture content. The naturals are much drier so I need to be more gentle with them when I’m roasting.

Farm workers hand sorting coffee

“They’re both light to medium roasted coffees. Try them without milk first and then see what milk does to the flavour. This way, you’ll get four different flavours out of two coffees!”

If people haven’t tasted these coffees yet and are not sure which one to choose how would you describe them?

If they were to choose just one, I’d say that people who are regular coffee drinkers or who like a more easy drinking coffee (meaning they prefer coffee that has more relatable favours) should definitely try the Guji Uraga Tome. On the other hand, Guji Genet has so many unique flavours that it will surely please someone who is more on the adventurous side.

How would they compare to the rest of our coffees?

Let’s take our house blend Magneto as a guideline of what you’re drinking at the moment. What you’ll taste in the natural are fruity flavours such as strawberries, red grapes and red fruits. With milk it can almost taste like a strawberry milkshake. Washed coffees also go great with milk that will bring out the chocolate and caramel notes.

You don’t too often get a chance to try coffees that have been grown in such close proximity and processed differently. We have them both on our shelves now.

What’s the best way how  people can approach the comparative tasting?

I’d suggest to people to do it with an open mind and let the coffee speak for itself. They’re both light to medium roasted coffees so even without milk they will taste great. Try them without milk first and then see what milk does to the flavour. This way, you’ll get four different flavours out of two coffees!

Cupping Clandestino Roasters

Which one do you prefer and how do you drink it?

I’ve always really liked naturals. But the flavours can get too intense for everyday drinking. I’d probably choose Guji Genet. It’s just so fascinating that with this particular processing method, the producers can make the coffee taste the way they do. And all from one simple thing – how the coffee cherry is dried out.

Any last words?

This and the last year, Ethiopia had a really bad season and the growers didn’t produce as much (good) coffee as they normally do. They did produce great lots like these two, but the rest had lower quality than the previous years. All the really good stuff got bought quickly so we were lucky to get our hands on these two exceptional coffees. The stock won’t last forever so grab one while you can!

Great catching up, Steg!

Guji Uranga

Guji Uraga Tome is a washed, lighter body coffee with well balanced cup, high acidity and long delicate sparkling tea-like finish. You’ll enjoy delicious citrus aromas and notes of Mandarin, Lemon, Marzipan or Cola.  

Guji Genet

Guji Genet is a rich and intense natural coffee bursting with red and tropical fruit character and velvety body. Clear notes of Purple Grape, Peach, Strawberries and Cream and Jam will have you asking for more.