The trend of the clean cup profile has been going on since 1980s, and wet(washed) process has gained its momentum as the specialty coffee popularity rises. There is something interesting about the terms, washed/unwashed process. As you can see in Ukers’ “All about Coffee“, the terms washed/unwashed process were more commonly used in early days more than natural/wet process.
The terms, washed and unwashed, were gradually replaced with wet and natural process . Those terms unintentionally give consumers certain impression on the coffees: washed(wet) coffee has cleaner profile than what you can get from the unwashed(natural) coffee.
The idea of clean cup in specialty coffee can affect the performance of mass produced coffee traded at the commodity market. It’s just like the Formula one performance could affect the sales of passenger vehicles.
Behind the shift of terms from unwashed to natural, there seems to be an effort by Brazil, the biggest coffee producer which largely adopts natural process, to regain its brand by diffusing the term “natural” which gives better impression on their sun dried coffee to consumers. The economical effect of the term shift isn’t small for Brazil. The amount of coffee traded as the second biggest commodity is tremendous.
Historical Prices of Three Arabica Coffees at Commodity Exchange Market (Data from International Coffee Organization, Chart Created by italcoffee.com)
According to the above data , Colombian Milds have the highest prices (Colombia, Kenya, Tanzania), Other Milds (Central America) have the second highest prices, and Brazilian Naturals (Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia) have the lowest prices among commodity Arabica coffees. However, until 1986, Brazilian Naturals had positioned itself at the steady second place after Colombian Milds. Ever since 1987, those two Arabicas’ positions have been switched; Other Milds come before Brazilian Naturals.(Sorry I didn’t get older data, but ICO provides it to you upon request)
The coffee prices in commodity exchange and the popularity of the clean coffee profile do not seem to be coincidence. If Brazil can successfully wipe out the unclean impression on natural coffee by switching the common name from “unwashed” to “natural”, it might recover the second position or at least the prices could get much closer to Colombian and Other Milds.