I find it interesting how people connect to coffee. Some people just love coffees from a particular country. Some people ask me for a good coffee at a certain roast level. I've heard a lot of requests for specific varietals of beans. But seldom do I get a request for a particular processing method. However, I believe the processing method has as much if not more impact on the flavor of coffee than any of the items listed above. I'm writing this post to talk about my favorite processing method and hope to show you another factor to pay attention to when picking coffee.
I've learned a little about Dry Process coffees over the years of roasting.
- An excellent Dry Process is not super common.
- Dry process isn't for everyone.
- A good Dry process always rates highest on my cupping table.
There are conventional techniques used for processing specialty-grade coffee: handpicking the cherries, de-pulping (extracting the fruit from the bean), fermenting, washing, drying, sorting, and lastly, exporting. You may recall this process as the washed method. You might have noticed some coffees on our website described as "natural process" or "dry process." This type of processing method removes the washing step entirely. It pushes the drying procedure much sooner, specifically right after the bean is handpicked. In this process, they will pick the cherries and dry them with the pulp and skin still on the bean. They are spread out on a drying bed and dried in the sun. With this method, the cherry fruit is attached to the coffee bean much longer than a traditional or wet-processed coffee.
A naturally processed bean is probably the oldest method. Beans prepared this method are usually called "natural coffees" because of the simple technique used and the fact that the cherry fruit stays intact during the entire process. There is a lot of labor in the method because they will turn the beans regularly to avoid molding or spoiling. This process can take weeks, depending on weather, and is something to behold. Its simplicity also means the process requires little investment and is typically used for cheap, lower-grade coffees in climate-compatible areas. You will find this process exclusively in some areas and is most commonly used in Africa. Ethiopia, specifically the western region (Limu, Harar), traditionally use the dry-processing method. Regions that are often humid or wet are not usually successful with the natural method. If the drying step takes too long, the fruit can become moldy or degrade. Environments that can complete the entire drying process within 20 days are ideal for natural coffees.
Unlike the washed processing method, whose techniques are somewhat predictable, the results of natural processing can be inconsistent. In addition to the required climate, high-quality dry-processed coffee requires extensive hand labor. With the dry process, the majority of the work is done by hand, and even the most attentive harvesters can mistakenly pick unripe or semi-ripe cherries. Once dried, these unripe beans can become indistinguishable from the ripe, resulting in a sour batch of coffee. Labor can be challenging to acquire in many areas due to the number of workers needed and the affordability of employment. Coffee producers in Brazil began using machinery to clean and filter their coffee of defects to make the price of their natural coffees more accessible.
Due to high market demand, many regions that do not traditionally produce natural coffees have adopted and implemented the techniques. Once roasted, these coffees tend to be brighter, and they are always more fruit-forward. Coffee buyers and consumers are easily able to distinguish the fruity notes of dry-processed beans, making them highly desirable in recent years. Because of the intense fruity notes of natural coffees, I often compare them to a full-bodied profile of red wine. The method of dry processing allows the sugars from the cherry fruit and outer layer to permeate into the coffee seed. They're not always as bold but still taste like coffee. Dry process beans tend to have a drier finish. They also tend to be more inconsistent in color and so you may get an odd-looking bag of coffee. This should not scare you because they're processed by hand and are just inconsistent. That's part of what makes it challenging to find a great one.
During my time of owning Sagebrush, I have been lucky to offer some fantastic natural beans, with some even rivaling the clean flavor and consistency of washed coffees. You can discover flavor complexities in natural coffees that are often not found in the other processing methods. The next time you brew a dry-processed coffee, take the time to appreciate the flavor notes described. I can assure you it will be a rewarding experience.
Click this link to shop our current Dry Process coffees