What is Natural Coffee? Natural Coffee Explained!

When a coffee person says “Naturals” they mean “Dry Process” Coffee. Why all the confusion?

There’s some questions and misconceptions that evolve around the dry process method, in which the coffee bean is removed from the fruit. Hopefully this video series (below) helps to answer any questions you may have.

I made this video series some time back, but the topic is timeless. So what is natural coffee? Let’s break it down real quick, then go into further detail. First here’s a bit of “Q and A” about the terms though before we proceed:

What does “process” mean in coffee? What is “processing”?

Process means the way the coffee is transformed from a fruit on the tree, to a dried bean ready for roasting. The coffee bean is a seed from the fruit, commonly called a coffee cherry (and in some places still called a coffee berry). To get that seed from the fruit, and dried so that it can ultimately be roasted, is where the coffee bean must be processed. Read on…

What are the common ways coffee is processed?

There are to main methods called wet processing and dry processing. Wet-processed coffee is called “washed coffee” at times, while dry-processed coffee can be refered to as “natural coffee” in some instances.

Why does coffee need processing?

Coffee Bean Diagram

The main issue is that the seed, or green coffee bean as we call it, is wrapped in a couple outer layers, notably the parchment layer (endocarp). A layer of pectin and fruit mucilage clings tenaciously to the parchment layer. Think of the way the fruit clings to the plum pit / stone in some varieties. It’s slippery/slimy and you can’t even scrape it off.

How is the seed processed from the fruity mucilage layer?

Fermentation Tanks Wet-Process coffee Ethiopia

There are two major ways coffee is processed around the world (and of course many variations).
In wet-processing (pictured) the coffee is pulped (which means the outer fruit skin is peeled off), and the fruit-covered seed is held in a tank or bin of some kind to ferment. The goal of fermentation isn’t to create flavor, it’s simply to break down the fruit layer so that it can be washed away from the parchment-encased green bean.
The dry-process approach is much simpler! The coffee cherry is laid in the sun to dry. That’s it! The fruit dries out, the green bean inside shrinks away from the parchment layer. Then, when fully dry, all the outer layers are stripped off the green bean.

Dry process coffee in Sumatra also called natural coffee
Dry process coffee in Sumatra also called natural coffee. Naturals are ideal in covered drying, as they would take 30+ days to dry on a patio. The covered drying traps a lot of warmth, even on an overcast day with scattered rain clouds

Video Part One: Basics of Natural Coffee aka Dry Process Coffee

What is Natural Coffee? It’s Dry-Processed!

Video Part Two: Macro Views of Natural Coffee, Further Details on Processing

Tom gets up close and personal with some macro shots of different coffee beans. Take a detailed look at cascara tea, dry processed coffee and wet processed coffee.

Video Part Three: History of Natural Coffee and Tasting Naturals

History of naturals, where they come from, and what they taste like.

Sweet Maria’s Coffee Dry-Processing Overview Card

I produced this photo collage card as an overview of dry processing. We have shipped this card with orders at times, and keep a stock of them at Sweet Maria’s warehouse.

Sweet Maria’s Coffee Wet-Processing Overview Card

For comparative reference, here is the wet-process card, the sibling to the above.

Further Readings:

Coffee Science – Green Coffee Science and Cup Quality

Using Sight to Determine Degree of Roast

Kenya Coffee Grades: Exploring the Coffee Grading System

A Gallery of Wet Process Coffee Images

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