farmer picking coffee beans

Coffee’s Natural Processing Method

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world, enjoyed by millions of people every day. The natural processing method is just one unique way to produce coffee out of several others. This method involves leaving the coffee cherries to dry in the sun before removing the outer layers, as opposed to the more traditional method of washing the cherries to remove the outer layers.

What do you mean by “natural” processing?

Coffee just picked from the bush, ready to be dried.


There are three main types of natural processing. The first, and most commonly used method, is the practice of keeping the coffee cherry intact and set out to dry on a patio in the sun. The bed of coffee cherries is then turned (or raked) consistently, making this method a bit more labor intensive. Turning the coffee helps to prevent mold or other microorganisms from growing. 

Coffee Natural processing

Raised beds with a black mesh netting are used to allow heat to dry the coffee cherry from both the top and bottom. This allows for increased airflow, which reduces the likelihood of mold or off putting flavors developing, and requires less labor than patio drying. It still needs frequent raking, but this can be accomplished with a smaller portion of turns than patio drying. 

Coffee Natural processing drying in the sun

The third typical method of natural processing is to let the cherry dry completely while on the tree. This takes even less labor, but is at a higher risk of off putting flavors or uneven drying if the weather is not extremely predictable throughout the harvesting season. Moisture reduction is key to clean and sustainable natural processing methodology.

One of the main benefits of the natural processing method is that it is more environmentally friendly. This is because it requires less water and energy than the traditional method, making it a more sustainable option. The natural processing method also can result in a more complex flavor profile, as the coffee cherries are allowed to ferment for a longer period of time before being processed. This fermentation process imparts unique and interesting flavors to the coffee that can be lost in the traditional method.

The natural processing method also results in a sweeter and fruitier taste. This is because the coffee cherries are left to dry on the tree, allowing the sugars to concentrate and develop. This results in a cup of coffee with a unique sweetness that is not found in coffee that has been processed using the traditional method.

Natural processing and its impact on farmers

Another benefit of the natural processing method is that it is often considered a more traditional method of producing coffee. This is because it is a method that has been used for centuries by farmers in countries like Ethiopia and is still used today. It is a method that allows farmers to produce coffee in a way that is true to their cultural heritage and tradition.

The natural processing method also allows farmers to produce coffee in regions where water is scarce. This is because the process does not require the use of water to wash the cherries. This means that farmers in arid regions can still produce coffee using the natural processing method, even if they do not have access to a reliable source of water.

It's important to note that the natural processing method also has its downsides. The cherries are exposed to the sun and can be affected by weather and microorganisms, so the risk of defects and inconsistencies are  higher. Also, the drying process can take longer and is more labor-intensive than the traditional method, making it more expensive to produce.

For farmers globally, the natural processing method for coffee is a unique and sustainable way of producing this prized beverage. It results in a more complex and interesting flavor profile, as well as a sweeter and fruitier taste. The natural processing method is also more environmentally friendly and allows farmers to produce coffee in regions where water is scarce. While it does have its downsides, the natural processing method is a great option for those who want to experience a truly unique and authentic cup of coffee.

Natural coffees at Good Citizen

Our co-founder, long-time roaster and green buyer, and current Netsuite junkie, Sean Stewart, has often said that different ways of processing coffee should only exist if they “inherently make the coffee better.” If the same coffee from the same farm comes in both a washed and a natural processing method they often have completely unique profiles, and due to popular demand the naturally processed coffee will come with a higher price point. Seldomly, though, will the naturally processed version outperform its washed counterpart on a tasting table, begging the question, “why would we pay a higher price?”.

As consumers, we can tend to push our desires unwittingly onto the farming community, causing producers to take unnecessary risks to produce natural coffees, when their washed versions are beautiful enough.

However, when done right naturally processed coffees can be VERY clean and juicy providing a surprising bouquet of flavors that justify the extra work that went into the processing. So take note when you see a naturally processed coffee in a Good Citizen lineup that it must be a high quality and well produced natural!

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