A Natural(s) Backdrop

Brazil processing 1

A few examples of the differing levels of coffee cherry ripening found on the trees during harvest. With commercial coffees, all these these cherries are “picked” together via the traditional “stripping” technique

In Brazil, historically, processing coffee cherries has been equivalent to just drying them. The coffee cherries are kept intact while drying, neither requiring water nor involving any mechanical procedures. The natural process, then, has been a resource saving method altogether.

Although the natural process is solely a drying process, there are traditional and regional variations as to how the process is done. In one method the cherries are fully matured and fully dried while still hanging on the tree. But more often, cherries will be picked at the ‘average peak’ of maturation, and then dried in the sun or in a mechanical drier. In any case, and at any given time, all the cherries on a tree will be at various levels of maturation, or more or less dried.

Generally, labor cost is becoming an impactful economical factor in many coffee countries, particularly with a rapidly growing economy like Brazil has been experiencing in recent years. The expenses spent on picking the cherries off the coffee trees may represent a high percentage of the total cost of producing the coffee, thus the harvest regime is crucial for sustaining a sound coffee farming business. In Brazil, in most areas (and most commonly), coffee trees are harvested once every harvest with a traditional ‘stripping’ technique that is less labor intensive than selective cherry picking: All the cherries are removed from each branch in one swift maneuver. It has also become common to use mechanical equipment to save on labor involved with the harvest.

Brazil processing 2

Mechanical sorting can separate cherries based on things like color

Natural processed coffee counts for more than 80% of the total volume produced in Brazil and in some regions it is still the only processing method. Access to water resources has obviously played a role in this, as well as varying degrees of access to the marketplace itself. It wasn’t until the early-1990s, with the introduction of Pinhalense de-pulping machines, which removes the skin and mucilage from the bean before drying, that the pulped natural process became an option. The pulped natural process was initially introduced as way a to add value to Brazilian commodity coffee: to provide it with a cleaner coffee flavor. The market has responded to this by paying a premium for a clearer cup profile.

The machinery used for pulped natural processing is equipped with a feature that pre-screens cherries mechanically before the actual de-pulping process starts.

When ‘stripping’ is the most common picking regime, the mechanical post-picking cherry quality selection is the key factor in achieving a cleaner cup profile. This is what pulped natural processed coffee has been associated with.

With this as a backdrop two intriguing questions arise:

  1. What is the flavor potential of a Brazilian natural processed coffee if the cherries are picked carefully and selectively before drying?
  2. How should cherries be dried anyway? With full sun exposure, or more gently under shade or more controlled environment?

The next posts will explore the themes arising from these questions, so stay tuned!

– Robert

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