Pictured Above: Pre-sorted coffee cherries; dark, ripe cherries will be hand-selected to undergo the dry/natural process
Photo Credit: Ryan Lodge
At one point avoided because of perceptions of cloying sweetness, overly floral notes, and even vinegar-like fermented flavors, the dry or natural process is gaining ground in the specialty coffee industry by overcoming those stereotypes—in fact, well done dry processed coffee can be something balanced, complex, and delicious.
In undergoing the natural process, cherries are plucked from the shrub and then simply dried on patios or raised beds. In the case of Metric’s El Pilar Natural y Honey Hybrid, the natural lot is dried over twelve days. The coffee cherry is left on the bean throughout the entire drying process. Because the cherry stays intact, distinct flavors from the fruit are introduced to the bean. The bean itself interacts with natural microbes of the cherry that impart unique regional flavors, natural sugars, and fermented fruit tones naturals are known for as enzymes break down the mucilage. Before export, the cherry’s pulp and parchment are scrubbed mechanically from the bean.
Although ideal for drier climates, Central and South American countries are keen to master the natural process. It can prove to be very labor intensive, requiring manual sorting to sift out defects and careful attention in assuring drying occurs consistently and completely. Yet it can be done, and coffees like this El Pilar Natural y Honey prove that this processing is viable anywhere if enough work and attention are given to it. As the process gains traction, we can find natural processed coffees that have it all—balanced and unique fruit flavors working in tandem with the inherent flavors of the bean. The trick is, just like with wet processed coffee, to do it well. It is yet another example of the forever changing nature of the coffee industry, and another reason why cupping everything with an open mind is important.
Pictured Above: Mill worker turning coffee cherries via the dry/natural process at Finca El Pilar
Photo Credit: Ryan Lodge
Pulped Natural/Honey Processed/Semi-dry
Gaining popularity across Central and South America is the honey process.
“Honey process” is an admittedly conflated term that refers to a process in which some outer layers remaining in contact with the bean during the drying process. Some grade honeying with how many outer layers are left to dry with the bean, and some grade honeying in terms of how often the bean is turned during the drying process, or in general how long the drying is managed (yellow, red, and black are terms referring to the length of time the bean is dried with the mucilage left on). Although terminology and definition of such terms differ across producers and roasters alike, the important part of the honey process is that some parts of the the sticky outer layers are left to ferment, lending an amplified acidity unique to both the region and the coffee.
For Metric’s Guatemala El Pilar Natural y Honey Hybrid, select lots are honeyed to a “yellow,” with some skin of the cherry and a portion of the pulp being removed before being left to ferment and dry. These lots are blended in with with natural process coffees, and the result brews into a balanced yet vibrant brew. Pleasant wine-like acidity and strawberry notes come through beautifully, and showcase the best of natural and honey-processed coffees all in one cup.