This is arguably the oldest and most original form of coffee processing and was traditionally used to process cherries on a commercial scale (i.e in Brazil) or in areas with limited access to water resources (I.e Ethiopia). It can often be the case that natural processed coffee will throw up more defects in the cup and can sometimes have an intense earthy flavour due to the way it has been dried, which is why it has traditionally been washed coffees which attract higher prices for their clarity and complexity. Nowadays, natural processed coffees are highly sought after for their funky fruit flavour and many coffee producing origins are adopting this method to introduce new and different flavour profiles to the speciality industry.
In this process, coffee cherries are picked when ripe and are taken straight to patios or raised African beds to dry for a period of 8-20 days dependent on origin and temperature. The cherry is dried with all of the layers intact which means there is a certain amount of natural fermentation occurring within the bean in its own environment – many enzymatic bi-products are absorbed from the mucilage into the heart of the coffee bean which results in an incredibly distinct flavour profile. Once dry, the cherries will resemble raisins and when they have reached this state, the beans are left to rest inside the cherry pods before being milled to remove the outer layers and are then sorted for shipment.
When purchasing natural processed coffees, we look first for consistency and a clean cup followed by boozy rum and raisin flavours and hints of tropical fruits and strawberry. At their best, natural processed coffees can bring incredible sweetness to espresso and should also work well filtered giving a sweet and syrupy mouthfeel. They are often much fuller bodied than washed coffees with exaggerated sweetness and lower acidity.