Process Stories Part 2: Natural

The second in a series of articles discussing coffee processes.

There's a lot that goes into making a cup of coffee. The region the coffee was grown in will effect flavor. The specific cultivar the fruit comes from will effect flavor. How the coffee is roasted will certainly effect flavor. Another crucial element in determining what you'll taste in the cup is how the coffee is 'processed.' 
Maybe you've seen this term bandied about before. A barista at your local shop may have mentioned it. Maybe the words 'natural process' or 'washed' appeared on a bag of coffee you bought. Well, let's get into what we're talking about when we talk about process. 
Processing happens at wet and dry mills after the coffee cherries have been harvested. The methods used and the care put into the processing will both have dramatic effects on the characteristics of the bean from that point forward. It really is one of the most important phases in coffee’s long journey from tree to cup. Here we will discuss one of the most common processing methods used in specialty coffee and how it affects the attributes we taste in the final product.                                                              



Natural - Sometimes referred to as “dry processed,” these coffees are dried inside the intact coffee cherry and as such require little or no water. Ripe coffee cherries are harvested and laid out on a patio or raised “African beds” where they are raked and turned frequently to maintain even drying. In this process the sugars and flavors of the cherry itself are imparted to the bean contributing to a natural coffees characteristic fruitiness.

Natural processing is the oldest method originating in Ethiopia along with coffee itself. For a long time natural coffees were considered to be inferior to washed coffees for a number of reasons. They are more difficult to sort for unripe cherries and defects, and many lower grade Robusta coffees are natural processed which may tarnish some excellent Arabicas by association. Thankfully over the last decade naturals have found a new following in the specialty coffee world among both consumers and growers alike. When done with the right care and attention to detail natural processing can produce spectacular fruit-forward coffees. Additionally they have the environmental benefit of reducing the use of water resources.

The most important parts of the process are turning the coffee cherries frequently (as often as every 15-30 minutes), and the final sorting at the dry mill. After the dried coffee fruit and parchment is removed from the bean. Since there is usually no process of sorting these beans between harvest and laying them out on the patios or raised beds, a well produced natural coffee must be meticulously sorted by size, density, ripeness, and color. Even still, a carefully sorted natural coffee will often have some inconsistencies - in the right coffee this can add to its character after roasting.

In the cup natural coffees are noted for their pronounced fruit forward profile and often by a heavier body than their washed counterparts. While the traditional perception of naturals often assumes a less complex, even one-dimensional "fruit bomb," a great natural can be multi-layered with depth and nuance. A fantastic example of a natural here at 802 Coffee is our Ethiopian Natural Sidamo -- an exquisite coffees with depth, character, and multiple flavor notes that transition smoothly in a well balanced cup.


Next up: Unlocking the mystery of the "honey" process.