In the final part of our blog series about coffee processing methods, we’re focusing on natural processing: the oldest known coffee processing method, a sustainable option for processing coffee, and a means to extract fantastic flavors from coffee beans. Intrigued yet? Let’s take a closer look…
Coffee processing at a glance
Remember that processing is an essential step in coffee’s journey from crop to cup. Coffee is a fruit, and to ‘process’ coffee essentially means to remove the outer layers of the coffee cherry from the coffee seeds, or beans, inside.
During honey processing and washed processing, some (or all) of the fruit flesh surrounding the coffee beans is removed before they are put out to dry. Natural processing is a little different: after the coffee cherries have been picked, they are directly put put out to dry, fruit flesh and all. This means that the fruit flesh surrounding the coffee bean is only removed after the coffee cherry has been fully dried.
Check out the video below, where Rasmus and Andreas visit the farm of our good friend Silvio Sanchez, who exclusively produces natural coffees.
A closer look at natural processing
Natural processing (also called dry process, unwashed, or natural sundried) may be the oldest known coffee processing method, but it is not necessarily the simplest. In fact, the process requires a lot of attention. Consider the following factors which must be accounted for during dry processing:
Freshly picked coffee cherries need to be sorted, weighed, and then put out to dry. The cherries need to be sorted and turned frequently while drying. Once dry, the cherries are put through a hulling machine to remove the dried fruit flesh. The seeds must then be sorted and polished before they are ready to be shipped.
Risks of over-fermentation:
Since the fruit flesh surrounding the coffee seeds is highly susceptible to mold and other defects, natural coffee must be turned and sorted frequently to reduce the risk of over-fermenting. Just one coffee cherry which is overripe or underripe can ruin an entire day’s harvest, so the coffee is meticulously inspected throughout the entire process.
Although the exact drying period of coffee depends on climate and region, it can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks for the coffee cherries to fully dry during natural processing. Usually, it takes about 3 weeks for the coffee cherries to dry completely. This makes natural processing the longest coffee processing method.
Some ØNSK coffees you might like…
The taste of natural coffee
If producing natural coffee is such an intensive procedure, why go through all the effort?
Those who have tried natural coffees before will know the answer. When done right, natural processing results in coffee which is incredibly fruity, sweet and full-bodied. This is because the coffee beans are dried inside the cherry. While the coffee cherries are drying in the sun, a fermentation process takes place inside the cherry, giving the coffee a fruity and fermented taste which is unique to natural processing.
Because of their unique taste, natural coffees are great for people who are up for trying something different when it comes to specialty coffee. We recommend brewing naturals with a pour-over, such as a Chemex or Hario, since the brewing method highlights their sweet and full-bodied taste.
Natural processing: the best way forward?
While natural processing is the oldest and most natural way to make coffee, it’s not the most common today. Washed processed coffees are more popular in the world of specialty coffee, since the process is more controllable and therefore produces more evenly flavored cups.
However, we think that natural processing is absolutely worth the time and effort. Besides the fact that it makes room for new and unique flavor profiles, it is also a sustainable option for processing coffee since it requires no water. That’s why we’re working actively with farmers such as Silvio Sanchez to optimize the natural coffee processing method. When the risks and labor can be accounted for, dry processing is a great way forward when it comes to sustainable coffee production.