The pulped natural process was developed in the 1990s. It was originally referred to as the semi-dry process, but this term can cause some confusion because it also applies to wet-hulled coffee (a method widely used in Sumatra, where coffee is hulled when its moisture content is still quite high). Pulped natural processing came about as a means of reducing the level of unripe coffee beans found in natural-processed coffees (J. N. Wintgens, 2004, pgs. 623–8). By incorporating a screen pulper into the drying process, it is possible to separate hard, green cherries from ripe, soft ones that could not squeeze through the rungs of a screen pulper. Pulped natural coffees are dried with mucilage left on the parchment, a process that usually requires a minimum of 24 hours on raised beds or patios. In the absence of this pre-drying stage, the coffee’s sticky mucilage can adhere to the walls of a dryer.
In recent times in Central America, pulped naturals have come to be referred to as honey processed coffees. Over the last decade, innovations in honey processing and the wider use of demucilaginating machines has meant that coffees from the same terroir can achieve extremely different flavour profiles with only the slighted alterations in how quickly they pass through a demucilager machine.
The term honey processing and pulped natural are used interchangeably, however ‘honey processing’ is a much newer term; it only came into common use around the start of the last decade. One of the very first proponents of honey processing in Central America was Graciano Cruz, the owner of Los Lajones in Panama whose video from 2010 shows him explaining his approach to drying a honey processed nano-lot on raised beds made of bamboo.
As pulped natural processing has become more specialised in recent years, many innovative approaches have been adopted, most notably in Costa Rica. Producers differentiate between lots that had been processed with different amounts of mucilage left on the bean. As Francisco Mena explains in this interview with green buyer Stephen Leighton,