Natural, also known as dry processing, is the original method wherein which cherries are laid out to dry on massive, sunlit patios or raised beds for weeks at a time. Without any washing or de-pulping, the fruit is dried very slowly with the seeds inside. Sometimes difficult to control and predict, natural processing can bring about some unappealing flavour defects if done with little care, knowledge or attention. When performed properly, natural processing can really boost the sweet and fruity berry notes and introduce an interesting acetic funk in the cup.
The natural drying process usually involves workers spreading the coffee out onto huge concrete surfaces or raised beds to dry in the sun. The coffee must be raked and turned periodically throughout the day to avoid any spoiling. It is important that the drying coffee is protected from any unnecessary introduction of water, so the fruit is covered at night or during rain. Each batch of coffee will take several weeks to dry, requiring constant attention until the moisture content of the cherries drops to around 11%
Once dried, the coffee is either wet- or dry-pulped and often de-hulled at the same time. Depending on the producer, the coffee seeds could be dried further following the removal of the fruit mass. As this processing method is far less resource-intensive, it is preferred by smaller farmers or poorer producing countries such as Ethiopia. Natural coffees bring a richer, heavier and syrupier sweetness in the cup and open up more fermented and winey flavour profiles.
Naturals being turned on raised beds at Finca Himalaya in El Salvador