The Natural Process, from a farmer’s perspective.
I am going to continue discussing the topic of processing methods in coffee, with a focus on the natural process from a farmer's perspective. I do promise this will be the last of it for a while and I will change topic next week.
Our farm has been producing coffee for at least one hundred years. It used to be part of a large plantation of more than two thousand acres at the end of the nineteen century. On one of my first visits to the farm, I noticed an old mud brick patio of maybe two hundred square meters. It was partly damaged and covered in mud but some areas still showed the brick construction on a leveled terrace.
It did not dawn on me then, but a few years later it all made sense. Roads were non- existent or poorly maintained in the early 1900’s. Transporting the coffee beans on an ox cart would have taken a long time, so coffee was picked and dried on site before transport to a mill or other facility. It just goes to show that drying the coffee cherries after picking them - the natural process - is an old and traditional way of processing coffee.
Eventually, the washed process displaced the natural process as the preferred method since coffees taste cleaner and are more vibrant. It was not until the third wave of coffee came about that the natural process had a resurgence. The first time I heard of it was when a coffee buyer, my now good friend Stephen Leighton currently at Drop Coffee in Sweden, requested it. I immediately said yes, we could do a natural process, but I wasn’t sure what he meant.
So, I asked around and I was told that I should not do that. That only the unripe coffee or rejected coffee from processing was done that way. Thanks to the internet though, I was able to research some more and insisted on processing the coffee the natural way. In the end, the coffee turned out great and my buyer was pleased. Uff!
Fast forward a few years and the naturally processed coffee has been a big success for our farm. We do not have as much space as we would like, so only the finest coffees are dried on site. Cherries from unique varietals are hand-picked, hand-selected, and then laid out on raised beds at the farm to dry.
Our collaborators spend 15 to 20 days tending to the cherries, constantly moving them to ensure an even dry. Once the cherries have reached an ideal humidity level of 11%, they are carefully bagged and transported to the mill for further processing. The end result is a coffee that is fruitier and more interesting than a washed coffee, as Adriana mentioned on the prior post.
I hope you enjoyed a little bit of behind the scenes of our lovely farm and our Pacamara Natural Process coffee. Until next week,