Trends often reflect changes in the taste of users as a consequence of social changes or evolutions dictated by economic contingencies and needs. They are also often the result of avant-garde movements, cultural movements or movements of opinion which sometimes extend to wider segments of the population.
In the world of commercial coffee, the blends that are generally used in coffee bars are calibrated by roasters in order to keep the price and the investments on the client low and to ensure to unprofessional baristas a decent yield in the cup.
The largest producer of Arabica coffee in the world is Brazil which, for practical reasons, traditionally uses the so-called natural process. This aspect is also to be considered among the reasons why ‘natural’ is used in almost all espresso blends.
Washed coffee was trendy when the world coffee market was sourcing from Central American countries, which process their coffee wet.
The commercial coffee market rarely or never uses a single origin coffee for espresso therefore the common espresso consumer can hardly have developed the ability to distinguish between washed and natural and therefore understand and appreciate their differences.
Only the advent of specialty coffees and the movement of baristas and coffee lovers (the third wave of coffee) introduced the use of single origin coffees for filter and espresso extractions and consequently, baristas, roasters and coffee lovers were able to express their own taste tendencies between the more complex aromas of washed coffees and the full-bodied sweetness of natural coffees.
Natural coffees are generally less fresh and complex than washed coffees, but more immediate due to their evident sweetness and body and therefore suitable for espresso, are also more popular in the specialty universe. Full bodied and less acid, natural coffees allow an easy and immediate approach even to the least experienced palates.
However, processing processes only partially determine the sensorial profile of a cup, on which weigh the botanical variety (cultivar), altitude, cultivation in shade or sun, the ripening level of the cherries harvested and therefore the chemical composition of the cherry.
In addition to the most common wet and dry systems and to the less common honey process, an interesting phenomenon is the fermentation design that, as we know, starts from wine and invests in the whole food planet and since some years has also landed in the world of specialty coffee.
By modulating and controlling time and temperature in partial or almost total absence of oxygen and in some cases, by adding yeasts or bacteria as in carbonic maceration for example, it is possible to obtain very complex and often unique cups.
In the world of specialty coffee, studies and experiments of fermentation design are getting a lot of interest and are giving surprising results, giving coffee different sensorial profiles, which change considerably, according to the solutions adopted.
All this implies innovative choices among producers, push for improvement and ambition for a professional recognition as well as an economic one.
Drinking coffee is becoming more and more a hedonistic experience, a pleasure of life as well as a cultural choice which sensorial expectations.
The risk to be avoided is trivialization, routine, homologation, mystification of the genetic imprint of the varieties. Even with all the risks, however, the process of fermentation in coffee, besides giving excellent results, if well done, is also a method with less impact on the environment.
Moreover, producers who choose to work on post-harvesting processes cannot avoid harvesting cherries with knowledge and therefore it means they made a quality choice.
Maybe terroir is also evolution, research, experimentation.