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Should You Wash Coffee Beans?

From beans to coffee. Should I wash my coffee beans?

Some of us like things clean. As a result, we tend to wash and clean everything, be it a brand-new set of cutlery, clothes, or tools. But what about coffee beans? Should you wash your coffee beans before brewing?

In general, you do not wash your coffee beans before brewing. This is because the beans would have gone through some cleaning before roasting. Washing roasted coffee beans may make the coffee taste odd, and you will strip away flavors too.

This article explores if washing coffee beans is a good idea. We also look into if there is a right time to wash coffee beans and what to do if you spill some coffee beans.

Washing coffee beans before brewing is generally bad for many reasons.


Why Should You Not Wash Coffee Beans?

Washing things we eat or drink just feels natural. We wash our fruits before we take a bite out of them. We also wash and soak many types of beans before cooking them. 

However, washing coffee beans before brewing is generally bad for many reasons. Some include:

Coffee Beans Come To You Already Clean

Coffee beans go through many steps of processing before arriving at you. After plucking, they are washed, dried, roasted, and shipped to you. 

These beans are usually processed in a clean, safe environment, especially in the latter processing stage, such as roasting and packing. 

This means these beans would have arrived to you fairly clean and safe to consume immediately. You do not need to wash them. 

This is different from some other foodstuffs such as rice or beans. They may need some rinsing to wash off the dirt since the packaging may not be good enough to keep them clean. 

You also want to spend some time checking if twigs or rocks are inside too. You do not need to do these on your roasted coffee beans.

Cup of Coffee Beans. Photo by Raimond Klavins.
Cup of Coffee Beans. Photo by Raimond Klavins.

Your Coffee May Taste Funny

Coffee can be said to be a ‘delicate dance of flavors.’ The flavor you enjoy from your coffee may have resulted from many hours of trial and error. 

Roasters try to roast the coffee in many ways to extract the best flavors from the beans. They roast, cup (which means conducting taste tests), and repeat the process until they achieve the best taste.

This means you would avoid introducing another aspect that may affect the taste of the coffee. Washing your coffee would do that. 

Washing your coffee with water may introduce contaminants, such as bacteria or contaminants, into your beans. 

Water may alter the taste of your coffee by introducing things such as microorganisms and metals. In the end, your coffee may taste off and not the way the master roasters intend it to be. 

You Will Strip Away The Flavors

Ever heard about people complaining that decaf coffee just does not taste as nice as full coffee? They are right in some ways. 

This is because decaffeination is usually done with water, a process known as Swiss Water. The beans are soaked in water in the Swiss Water process to help draw out the caffeine. 

However, the process may also take away some of the essential oils and compounds that help flavor coffee beans. 

When you wash your coffee beans, you may just be doing the same thing to your beans. Washing roasted beans may strip away even more flavor than raw beans.

This is because roasting usually draws out the oil and flavors from the beans, making them easier to extract during brewing. Washing your beans simply removes these layers of oil and flavors away. 

As a result, your coffee may taste a little bland and lacking in character.

Plus, think about this for a second. If the roasters require you to wash the coffee beans, would they have at least mentioned that on the coffee packaging?

Your Coffee Will Degrade Much Faster

There is a reason why your coffee beans come as dry as a bone. 

Not having any moisture inside helps to prevent the coffee from losing its freshness too soon. There is also no moisture to encourage the growth of bacteria or mold. 

Even with that level of effort, coffee beans may start losing their freshness around 7 to 21 days after being roasted.

If you wash your coffee beans, you will make your coffee degrade and lose its freshness much faster. 

The reason is that by introducing moisture to your beans, you encourage the growth of mold, bacteria, and other nasties.

Your Wet Coffee May Be Bad For Your Brewing Equipment

Another reason you should not wash your beans is to protect your equipment. Many coffee-making pieces of equipment are made to process bone-dry coffee beans.

These include grinders, tampers, or espresso machines.

If you feed wet, washed coffee beans into your coffee grinder, imagine how some wet coffee grounds may get stuck inside the burrs and clog them. You may also end up with clumps of wet ground coffee, which may not brew well.

If you use espresso machines and try to tamp your coffee, some of the grounds may stick to your tamper too. The excessive moisture may also dilute the taste of your espresso, making it taste a little watery.

When Is The Right Time To Wash Coffee Beans?

Roasted coffee beans should not be washed, period. Doing that just shortens the lifespan of the coffee and makes it taste bad.

However, there are situations where coffee beans get a good wash. This usually happens during the processing stage. 

Fresh coffee beans usually get a good wash to clean them up. Some fresh coffee cherries get washed to remove the fruit pulp from the seeds (which becomes your coffee beans.) 

This process is used to make washed coffee, which differs from natural-processed coffee.

Raw, green coffee beans are usually given a good wash before roasting too. 

Washing before roasting helps to remove any layers of sugar on the surface of the raw beans. If not removed, these sugars may become burnt during roasting, resulting in a bad-tasting coffee.

Plus, roasting will remove most, if not all, of the moisture inside the coffee beans anyway, so washing them one last time may make sense before roasting them. 

“Washed Coffee Processing” by Cafe Imports on YouTube.

Should I Wash Spilled Coffee Beans?

Suppose you are unlucky enough to spill some coffee beans. In this case, should you still wash it?

You generally do not need to wash the beans. Depending on the surface where you spilled your beans, you may consider between light cleaning and discarding them.

If you spill your coffee beans on a hard, dry, clean surface, such as a countertop, you may not need to clean the beans. Just use a dry paper towel, and pick the beans up. Place them in a bowl, and brew these beans first. 

If these beans catch some moisture, place them on another paper towel, and allow them to air dry. Also, make it a point to brew these beans first since they may degrade faster. 

Suppose you spilled your coffee beans on a less clean surface. In this case, you may need to make a hard decision. You could perform light clearing on the beans or discard them completely. 

If you decide to clean the beans, first, pick them up with a paper towel. Then use a soft brush to brush the beans, to remove any dirt or debris. Do not wash or introduce any moisture to the beans. Make it a point to brew these beans first. 

However, you may find that option unpalatable. Simply brushing the beans with brushes only removes dirt and debris. There may be other nasties still lingering around the beans. 

If you cannot accept that, you have no choice but to discard these beans. 

Wrapping Up

In most cases, you should never wash your coffee beans. Water should only contact your beans when you are brewing them. 

Introducing moisture to coffee beans will alter their taste, making them degrade much faster. Even if you spill your coffee beans, just dry clean them with a soft brush. 

Speaking of brewing coffee, have you checked out 26 types of coffee you can brew with your magic beans? Give it a read and see how many you have tried.

Frequently Asked Questions about Washing Coffee Beans

Should I wash my coffee beans before brewing?

No, you should not wash your coffee beans before brewing, as it can alter the taste, strip away flavors, and reduce their freshness.

When is it appropriate to wash coffee beans?

You should only consider washing coffee beans in rare cases such as accidental contamination or if they come into contact with chemicals or strong odors.

If I need to wash coffee beans, how should I do it?

Rinse the beans quickly with clean, filtered water, and then immediately dry them thoroughly by spreading them out on a clean towel or paper towels in a well-ventilated area.

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