There are many trends within coffee we have seen recently; some stick around, and some disappear soon after they are trendy. One that doesn’t catch many headlines but we are big fans of here is soaking. Kenya has always had a reputation for being the origin that soaks, with a development of amino acids often given as the reason why it is preferred.
So what is Soaked Coffee? On a very basic level, soaking is exactly what it sounds like, bathing the coffee in water for an appropriate amount of time. Of course, there are variations around this, usually regarding the amount of mucilage on the bean. For the sake of clarity, beans with significant mucilage remaining or as full cherries would be regarded as undergoing wet fermentation. Once depulped (either dry, mechanically, or after a wet fermentation), any further resting in a water tank here is referred to as soaking, though some would also call it secondary fermentation.
Where did soaking come from?
In short, soaking is a mechanism used to manage bottlenecks in processing. Although fermentation can be quite quick, drying times can be much longer and patio/bed space limited, so a need existed to store coffee without damaging it. This is what we saw happening with some smallholder farmers in Colombia recently.
How did it become a process?
Like anything really, if it works for the farmer that’s a big start. The fact it impacted cup profile in a positive way is a benefit, to the point it has become continued and accepted as a style.
Where does it occur?
Kenya is the key origin that has built a reputation for it. However, it is not uncommon in Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania too. We love what it does to the coffee, so have for a number of years requested microlots that do this in Peru (El Gallito with Frontera San Ignacio ) and El Salvador (Los Nogales with Jasal).
What does it do?
For us, it increases the score by around 1-1.5 points (higher if you double soak) and creates a more syrupy, silky coffee with better clarity and depth. This is based on our experience over the last 6 or so years working with Jasal where we have been able to directly compare washed, soaked, and double soaked coffees a number of times maintaining altitude, plot and varietal.
Why don’t more people do it?
Styles of processing seem to have expanded massively over recent years. There are more options to choose from for sure, and imaginations have definitely run wild in the anaerobic/aerobic/carbonic fermented coffees. There is a water usage issue here too though. Modernisations like the Ecomill and centrifugal demucilagers work to vastly reduce the amount of water farmers use, which positively impacts the environment. If you have no ready water source on your farm, it can be a big effort to bring clean fresh water up there too, as well as then managing the waste stream correctly.
Does it affect the price?
Sure. Anything that prolongs processing time and increases score will push price up a little. Soaking is usually around an additional 24 hours, and of course impacts the capacity of the mill, so has to be carefully planned.
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