September 07, 2022
by Eric Thompson
Are you looking for a process in tune with accessibility as well as one that fills your mug full of rich fruits and wine? If so, a natural process coffee may be right for you.
There’s nothing unnatural about any coffee, but the name of the natural process may implicitly suggest otherwise.
The natural process is the oldest coffee processing method. It uses tools that nature (the same nature that gives the process its name) gave us to get to the treasured bean. It is still used in many parts of the world that do not have access to either abundant water or flourishing finances for expensive equipment that other processes need. This process makes the coffee market accessible, as long as there's ample space to spread cherries out to dry in the sun.
Another name for the natural process is the dry process, which puts it in opposition to the wet process. The natural method opens up room for fermentation to alter flavor variables more freely. There is more risk but also offers a tasty reward if it is done properly.
What is the Natural Process
To get a sense of coffee processing, it may be good to read through the Washed Process
and Anaerobic Process
Many aspects of these methods share a resemblance, differing in the minutia. We will be picking apart those differing details here. Small variations from bush/tree-to-consumer can vary what winds up in your mug, whether that be appealing or appalling.
Coffee is picked, sorted, and then laid to dry in the sun on patios or raised beds. While this process minimizes the amount of water required, the coffee is still sorted by putting the cherries into a tank. Fruit that is perfectly ripe and ready for harvest sink, while those that are overripe and undesirable float.
To promote airflow and avoid mold, mildew, and bruising, the coffee is agitated by stirring with rakes multiple times per day for three to six weeks. This agitation slows down microbial and fungal growth in the fruit, which are the powerhouses that perform fermentation. Mold is a fungus that is not just detrimental to flavor, but contains mycotoxins that are carcinogenic. As this process remains outdoors, various weather conditions can prolong the time that it takes for the cherries to dry.
Fermentation is halted by the moisture content dropping below ~11% in the cherry. At this point, drying is halted. It is then de-pulped by a machine to remove all the fruit layers down to the silver skin. The beans are then transferred to a mill. This second machine removes the silver skin and leaves only a set of green coffee beans, all collectively ready to be bagged and shipped.
What Sets the Flavor of the Natural Process Apart
The main differentiator in most coffee processes seems to be the conditions of fermentation.
Are microbes allowed to thrive moderately uninhibited like in the natural process? Are they restricted by certain conditions like in the anaerobic process? Are they halted altogether like in the washed process?
In the natural process, yeasts and bacteria are allowed to thrive in natural conditions. Our funky friends consume organics in the mucilage and produce a litany of different acids and compounds that will give coffee its flavor. You can expect to taste sweet fruits, honey, and red wines in your mug.
On the downside, consistency is difficult to achieve with the natural process. Slight variations in weather, moisture content, and temperature while drying can alter flavor drastically.
To reduce variables in brewing, it is recommended that you try your natural coffee with a pour over
. When preparing a pour over, water chemistry is essential to getting good coffee. Start with a carbon filter at home to get decent results. Cafes generally take it a step further by installing a reverse osmosis system.
Regions that Use the Natural Process
Specialty coffee shops seem to lean towards washed coffees. That does not mean that you will not find those enraptured by a good natural. It’s all about the flavors that you are chasing. There isn’t a superior coffee process; if you like what’s in your mug, then you’ve found the right coffee for you.
The natural process accentuates different aspects of a specific origin. You can get tasty natural coffees from almost anywhere! The regions that predominately use this method are Peru
, Yemen, Ethiopia, Costa Rica
, and Brazil.
Try Natural Coffee!
Current available washed options include: