What is Natural Process Coffee?
How does using a natural process affect coffee flavor?
Natural process coffee, also known as sun-dried or dry process, is the most traditional way of processing coffee, although far from the most common. Whereas washed coffees have their seeds removed from the coffee fruit as soon as possible after picking, natural coffees are dried while still whole and the seeds are extracted later. The impact is significant.
As with any processing method, the coffee cherries first need to be picked. They are sorted to weed out unripe or inferior fruits, and then spread to dry on patios, tables, or, ideally, raised beds where air can flow both above and beneath the layers of coffee. While this method is low-tech, it is labor-intensive. Workers must turn the cherries frequently for even drying, fermentation regulation, and to discourage the growth of mold and invasion of insects. It can take 2-6 weeks for the seeds to reach the appropriate moisture content – typically around 11%.
When the drying process is complete, it’s time to remove the coffee seeds from the cherries. A hulling machine uses friction to extract the seeds from their fruit and parchment layers. The green coffee seeds (also called coffee beans) are then sorted for quality control, polished, and packaged.
There are several aspects that set the natural process apart. With roots in Ethiopia, this technique is ecologically friendly and commonly used in areas without easy access to large quantities of water. The long drying process leaves more room for decay or contamination, so the coffee must be monitored carefully. In addition, the lengthy procedure and dependence on environmental factors can result in flavor inconsistencies.
However, the flavor is what draws people to natural coffees. Because the cherries are left intact for so long, natural coffee beans can absorb components from the surrounding pulp, resulting in a fruity aroma and flavors containing hints of berries, tropical fruits, and even chocolate or nuts. These coffees are more full-bodied than others, and can taste sweet, wild, or even alcohol-like. Some people may prefer washed coffees for the purity of the coffee flavor, but dry coffees are attracting quite a following among those who enjoy the variety of undertones, similar to those discernible in wines.
3 Arrows president Bill Ties and his team love to share the exquisite results of this lesser-known processing method. Ties explains, “The natural process combined with small batch roasting allows 3 Arrows to develop unique flavors that would otherwise not be possible. It’s fun to see someone taste a high quality natural processed coffee for the first time. It usually includes a ‘Wow! Didn’t know coffee could taste like that!’” Coffee aficionados and skeptics alike can take note: There’s a new brew in town.
Proud partners with Cafe Imports