Coffee grows in warm environments at high altitudes. The coffee bean we recognize is actually a seed- it is found inside a fruit called a coffee cherry. Workers harvest these fruits from coffee plants and the cherries then need to be processed in order to remove the seed from the fruit, and allow it to dry for transport to coffee roasters like us. There are a variety of ways the coffee fruit can be processed. We’ve covered the Wet, or Washed, process in the blog already. Another common method for coffee processing is the Dry, or Natural process.
The Natural process is used typically in regions where water is scarce. The wet-process method requires a great deal of water in order to sort the coffee cherries and prepare the beans, but in areas where water scarcity is a real concern, another method is used. This dry process leads to coffee with “fruitier” flavors. Some critics state that a washed coffee is superior to a natural coffee because the wet process precludes inclusion of any “outside impurities” from the flavor of the coffee. Here at Carrabassett Coffee Company, we love the big fruit bomb of a natural processed coffee. If you’ve never had a dry process coffee, you may be surprised at the amount the fruitiness from the coffee cherry really comes through in your final cup. Some natural processed coffees are described as having hints of strawberry, blueberry or even blackberry tones. This process adds a hint of sweetness and intrigue to your coffee. Coffee lovers who enjoy these flavor profiles say natural processed beans make really, really, good coffee.
Once the coffee cherries are picked, they are delivered to mills for processing. Unlike the washed process, where the fruit skins and pulp are washed away before drying, in the natural process, the coffee beans are set to dry inside the fruit.
The fresh-picked cherries are spread out on large, flat surfaces in the sun to dry for up to several weeks. The fruit ferments slightly, and wrinkles and dries in the sunlight. Many factors can affect the drying time: rainy weather or cloudy days will make the process take much longer. Beans that take longer to dry may ferment more, leading to differences in final flavor notes. This is why the natural processing method is so exciting! As an inexact science, it can lead to unique results.
As the beans and fruits are drying in the sun, workers with long rakes spread and turn the fruits throughout the day, in order to maintain as much consistency as possible in the drying. At night, or when it rains, the cherries are covered. The covering are removed on sunny mornings to allow for airflow and hot sunlight to work their magic.
Sometimes, coffee mills will use mechanical dryers to dry the coffee cherries, rather than the sunlight method. This allows for more consistent results, and more control over resulting flavors. It also prevents the risk of loss due to over-fermentation, mold, or other impurities that would lead to “off-flavors”. Whether the coffee cherries are drying in the sun or in a dryer, they will be ready when the moisture content reaches approximately 11%.
If the cherries become too dry, they will crack and the seeds inside will be too brittle to withstand the next steps in the process. On the other hand, if the coffee cherries do not dry enough, then the resulting coffee will end up tasting sour, rather than rich and sweet. The cherries will change color- from red to dark purple when they are ready. This is the easiest way to judge the best natural processed coffee.
Once the coffee cherries are deemed ready, they are put through a hulling machine, with rasps that rip the fruit from the seed, exposing the pale green or beige colored coffee bean within.
The green coffee beans, already dry, are now ready to be packaged in burlap sacks and shipped all over the world to be roasted! A coffee bean that starts out in Brazil or Africa comes all the way to Maine, where we use the premium quality green coffee beans to create specialty blends (or use them on their own as single origin coffees), roast them to perfection, and ship them out to you! Since we roast our coffee in small batches, and ship it out, 5 days a week, you receive the freshest and most flavorful coffee beans you can get!
Some of our single origin dry-processed (natural) coffees are:
You can buy these coffee beans by the pound online by following the links above. Give them a try and tell us what you think on Facebook or Instagram (@carrabassettcoffee)!