Funky Tasting Coffees, Natural Coffees - Part #2
The origin of the coffee, the environment it’s grown in, and the way the coffee is roasted does, of course, play a huge factor in what you taste in the cup. However, it does only paint half of the picture as the way the coffee is processed, arguably, plays an equally very significant role to the overall taste profile.
In our previous insight we provided a brief introduction to the washed coffee processing method, where the cherry and mucilage of the coffee plant are washed away leaving only the coffee beans themselves exposed to the drying phase. We explained how this method often leads to a reliable tasting coffee - you know, those that taste of coffee. However, the natural process is entirely different, and here we explain why.
Natural coffees - an introduction
The oldest processing method of all three we're highlighting owing to it's lack of processing and the level of technology - or lack of - thousands of years ago, whilst the washed process involves removing the cherry and mucilage from the beans, the natural processing method keeps the beans and fruit that surrounds it intact during drying, all in all allowing for more fermentation to take place. This difference in technique provides a distinction between the two when it comes to taste, but why does keeping the coffee inside the fruit make such a difference?
To put it simply, keeping the coffee bean enclosed in the cherry it is grown within allows for the enzymes present in the fruit to break down the mucilage surrounding the coffee bean itself. This is a process that happens over time - the more time the fruit is in contact with the coffee bean, the more the flavours present in the fruit the coffee bean will absorb. A much longer drying process than the washed method in terms of time spent, for the natural coffee process, the cherry can be left to dry for up to 4 weeks before extracting - that's alot of flavour absorption time.
The cherry, like many fruits, produces sugars and leads to a distinct sweetness developing in the bean. That’s why with naturally processed coffee, you will often find tasting notes relating to this interaction between the fruit and the coffee, resulting in taste descriptions that often include terms surrounding sweetness and fruity notes, as well as those more distinct to the geography of the land where the coffee has been grown. Whilst washed coffees can be sweet and fruity, typically you will more often find that they have less of these kind of characteristics present as the washed approach doesn’t allow as much time for the sugars and flavours of the cherry to be absorbed into the coffee.
Natural or washed, which coffees are better?
The key thing to take away from this is that one is not better than the other - as we mentioned within our washed coffees introduction, some coffee drinkers love funkier, fruitier coffees, whilst others simply don't. Like many things, it can all be very subjective and there are often other factors at play that determine which processing method is best suited for different farmers. For example, with naturally processed coffee, there is only a small margin of error. During the 4 week timeframe, whilst natural coffees can really can be quite interesting and tasteful in their end product, it is very important for the farmer to carefully monitor their crop. Such like factors at play include too many layers of coffee bean on the drying beds will lead to over-fermentation, coffee not turned over enough can lead to fungus growth - namely, mildew -, or too much turning of the coffee beans can hinder fermentation altogether. Of this fermentation, unwanted and sometimes unpleasant flavours can be absorbed into the coffee, and once this happens, the beans can become unusable.
Despite the balancing act required, if done right, natural coffees can truly be so tasteful and much of this technique lies in the expertise of the farmer - an experienced producer will have a meticulous attention to detail, and you guessed it, the level of quality of roasters we feature, you can be sure we'll be featuring the best of natural coffees available.
Customise your coffee subscription
If you like your coffees unique and with intense flavours, often sweet and berry-forward, then we would recommend considering naturally processed coffees, regularly featuring in our Plus 87 or Single / Light coffee subscriptions (personal preferences permitting). On the other hand, if you’re into your bright, vibrant and acidic coffees then you may prefer those that have undergone the washed processing method. It’s all a matter of personal preference. Either or, one of our proudest features is being the only multi-roaster coffee subscription service in UK, Europe and USA where you can actually personalise your coffee subscription to ensure you receive the coffees you'll enjoy. Feel free to take your pick of a processing preference or leave your settings entirely open to allow us to provide the ultimate of variety. For our next coffee processing method introduction, we cover honey processed coffees, one which sits somewhere in between.
GUSTATORY (adjective): curating excellence in taste.