As part of our processing series, we’ll discuss the natural process, a type of coffee processing.
Processing coffee involves converting the raw fruit of the coffee plant into the coffee drink. The coffee cherry has the fruit or pulp removed leaving the seed or bean which is then dried. While all green coffee is processed, the method that is used varies and can have a significant effect on the flavor of roasted and brewed coffee. This is why coffee producing is an artform – whereby the coffee quality can vary based on factors such as; the producer’s aims, experience, knowhow, resources, market demands, tradition, and personal preferences.
Natural Process, also known as Dry Process or Dry Natural, does not require water to treat the cherry. Hence its name. How it all works is, once a coffee cherry is picked at optimal ripeness, it must dry to a certain moisture content.
The cherry has a skin that wraps snugly around a thin layer of pulp, known as mucilage
, all of which encase the coffee beans destined for roast. Usually there are two beans in one seed, coupled together, each covered by a thin layer that called parchment
The cherries need to be spread out for even drying.
During the natural drying process, the entire cherry is left intact
. The soon-to-be coffee beans still nestled in the center absorb some of the characteristics of that sweet pulp and flavorful cherry skin, until the milling stage when the dried fruit and parchment layer surrounding the bean are hulled.
Cherries drying in the sun, in Costa Rica
The best natural processed coffees are dried on raised beds. The natural process offers a fuller-bodied brew, with notes of "citrus, lime acidity," or a strong "sweet, strawberry jam."
The process itself is rather advanced. There are a lot of different factors that can cause the process to go wrong. Processing naturally involves a high level of meticulousness because haphazard drying can result in chalky or dirty flavors. In fact, the cherry pulp discarded after the washed process emits a rotting fruit odor as it decomposes, and that’s precisely what coffee pros try to avoid with naturals.
The quality potential of the natural process, which is incredibly diverse, offers a fuller-bodied brew, with notes of "citrus, lime acidity," or a strong "sweet, strawberry jam." Some finer notes can include tropical fruit, bergamot, black tea, and dry chocolate.
With naturals, they can be found using drying beds such as this.
Trying to work on your coffee palate (coffee tasting skills)? Try naturals!
Naturals as a great point of entry for those who have yet to refine their palate. In fact, you don’t have to be a specialty coffee taster to detect the flavors that are evident in naturals because the flavor tends to be really strong and apparent.