Raised drying beds at Finca Deborah, in Panama. In the foreground is a traditional natural; midground is a washed coffee.
Natural processing has many advantages to coffee producers. It is far cheaper than wet processing, and it can reduce the water footprint of a coffee mill to near zero. This reduces the pressure on millers to find a reliable source of large quantities of clean water, and it also means that the environmental and financial costs associated with the disposal of processing water disappear. However, there are risks associated with dry processing. When performed without any quality-control measures, natural processing can lead to strong flavour taints and harmful mould growth.
The majority of the world’s coffee — and practically all of the world’s robusta — is dry processed. Brazil, the world’s biggest coffee producer, was responsible for 33% of the world’s arabica coffee production as of September 2018 (ICO). Brazil has always produced primarily natural processed coffee. In the 1980s, 90% of their arabica coffee output were naturals (J. C. Vincent, 1987).
A recent trade statistic we have found comes from green coffee traders, ECOM who kindly agreed for us to publish some of their trade data from the 2019–20 Brazillian season. Across an 18-month period, of a total of 3,149,968 x 60kg-bags of Brazillian coffee that were traded in that period, naturals came to 84.3%, pulped naturals to 15.55% leaving the washed process at a diminutive 0.15% of the total. ECOM’s inventory spans across commodity and specialty sectors for arabica and robusta coffee so this can be taken as fairly representative of Brazil’s national production.
Whilst there has been considerable development in processing technology in Brazil in recent years, huge volumes of Brazilian arabica goes into commercial espresso blends, where the low acidity and the malty and nutty flavour associated with natural Brazils is highly sought after.
At the other end of the spectrum, naturals processed with precision and care are beginning to sell for higher premiums than washed coffees.