A Guide to Salvadoran Naturals
Did you know that El Salvador’s first coffees produced were Naturally processed? When coffee was first cultivated in El Salvador, washed processing machinery did not exist or was not imported. However, the washed process became much more popular later on as it was perceived to be of a higher quality due to the lack of fruity and fermented flavours from Naturally processed coffees. This then led to the washed process becoming the standard universal processing method in most of Central America.
However, since the rise of specialty coffee in the early 2000’s, Naturally processed coffees have made a comeback. Their sweet, full bodied and fruity characteristics are desired by coffee buyers and consumers alike.
So what makes a good Natural? How do we achieve good Naturals? And what are the benefits of processing coffees Naturally?
What makes a good Natural?
Naturals are technically simple to perform; but in reality, they are quite difficult to do. They must be moved constantly through the first few days as moisture leaves and the beans dry. This ensures an even and adequate fermentation. The hallmark of a good natural should be cleanliness in the cup. A good natural should be free from processing defects like unpleasant alcoholic, moldy, rotten, or fermented.
Naturals also require stricter dry milling practices. Since the coffee isn’t floated, defective underripe beans, beans with borer or other defects cannot be separated through floating. A good natural should have consistent whole beans in a uniform manner.
How do we achieve good Naturals?
First we start by selecting cherries to an almost 100% ripeness. This means less quakers and defective beans that must be sorted out at the dry milling stage. The ripe cherries also carry much more mucilage, allowing for a sweeter, brighter cup.
On the wet milling side, naturals are moved constantly to avoid over fermentation. They are dried on patios or preferably African raised tables. Once they reach 11% humidity; they are stored properly in the dry mill.
Once the coffees are ready for export; they are dry milled. At Las Cruces, they pass through many steps including densiometric machines, and electronic sorters. The Electronic sorters work by rapidly taking pictures of coffee beans, analyzing them, and rejecting them by separating them with a burst of air.
Finally; they pass through good old, hand sorting. This allows for one last look and final remover of any broken, or defective beans. They are then prepared in Grain Pro bags for export.
What are the benefits of naturally processing coffees?
The biggest benefits might be the economics of Naturals. Simply put, roasters are willing to pay far more for a good Natural. This can translate in better profitability for coffee producers and better wages for workers.
Another benefit is the reduced water usage. Since Naturals don’t require water to process; coffee growing communities are better able to conserve their water supplies. In places like El Salvador, water may be scarcer, and these savings greatly help.