As the Director of Coffee for Palace, I’m always answering questions from baristas and customers about coffee. Questions posed to me range from simple, like, “what is a cortado?” to harder questions like, “how do I brew better coffee at home?” Much of the time I only get a few minutes of interactions with a customer and run out of time before to fully answering her questions. Fortunately, Palace has this blog and which provides an excellent space to answer your questions in full.
One question I love to answer is, “why is this coffee labeled natural while this other one is labeled washed?” Coffee goes through a long journey with multiple stops to get to you but that is a story for another time. For now, I want to focus on one part of the journey, processing, and more specifically, natural processing.
Processing, in simple terms, is how coffee seeds are removed from the fruit of the coffee cherry. That sentence may have surprised you so I’ll back up a little. First off, what everyone calls coffee beans are actually seeds. Secondly, those seeds are held inside fruit known as a coffee cherry. Coffee cherries are similar in size and shape to grapes turning a beautiful red color when they are ripe. There is not much fruit to the cherries because the seeds take up a bulk of the space. Coffee beans must be removed from the cherry and dried before roasting can happen. This is when processing comes into coffee’s journey. Again, processing is the method in which the beans are removed from the cherries and how coffee is processed will influence the flavors in the cup.
There are different processing methods: washed, semi-washed, and natural. Let’s take it slow and only go into the details of naturally processed coffee. The natural process is also known as dry processing because no water is used. Natural processing is the simplest methods in terms of steps. Ripe cherries are picked straight from the tree. To ensure quality, the cherries will be sorted to remove all the defects from the harvest. The cherries are then laid out to dry in the sun. They may be laid out on a huge patio or on raised beds to provide more ventilation. The cherries themselves will shrivel, similar to raisins, and turn from a bright red to a deep red to black. The dried cherry flesh is then mechanically removed from the seeds, which are now ready for export.
Since the flesh of the cherry and the seed remain in contact for much of the process, the seeds will take on some of the characteristics of the fruit itself. Many of the natural coffees you encounter will have tasting notes of sweet berries, such as strawberry or blueberry. This is because of the influence of the coffee cherry. Naturals also tend to produce coffee with heavier body and occasionally, more earthy tones.
If I’ve done my job well you’ve learned at least one new thing about coffee and have a greater appreciation for your morning cup. When it comes to coffee, knowing the facts will only get you so far. You need to taste natural coffee to gain real experiential knowledge. Our featured coffee for March is a great example of a natural coffee. We will be brewing the Ethiopia Guji Hambela from Onyx Coffee Roasters in two different ways. You can get it as a pour over or as single origin espresso. Personally, I like it in a cappuccino. The combination of espresso and milk highlights the chocolate malt and raspberry notes.
Do you have any questions about coffee? Maybe you’ve wondered why there is so much information on a bag of coffee and what it all means to you. Maybe you want to know which brew method is right for you. Ask away! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I might answer your question on the blog.