Full Naturals: An odd chain of mistakes that might turn out great.
23 March 2015
We regularly receive requests for more pulped naturals, a.k.a. honey
coffee. The problem is, it's a whole lot of work and makes a huge
mess. Well, this year we've made more pulped naturals. We've
also gone one step further and are trying a batch of full naturals.
Washed coffee - Nearly all coffee produced across the world is what we call
washed coffee. That simply means all the sugars are removed from the
beans before they're dried. This is important to prevent mold, mildew
or other problems. We wash our coffee before fermenting then again
afterwards to get it sparkling clean. A coffee that's not cleaned
properly can produce all sorts of defects in the cup.
Pulped Naturals - These are
coffee beans that have been removed from the
fruit (i.e. pulped) but allowed to dry with the slimy pectin layer (i.e.
sugars) still intact. As you might imagine, this creates a huge
slimy, sticky mess. Not only is it messy, all those sugars attract
bugs, mold and other problems so it is important to dry the coffee before
it starts to over-ferment and rot. To make pulped naturals correctly,
we need plenty of space on the drying deck and a couple weeks of hot, dry
Naturals - If the pulping process is skipped entirely and the bean is
allowed to dry while still in the fruit, this is called a "natural" coffee.
It's common in places like Africa where they don't have fancy
machines or extra water for the washing process. They simply pick the
coffee then lay it right out on the dirt road to dry in the blazing hot
African sun. It's not done this way for quality reasons, it's done
this way out of necessity.|
Full naturals aren't as messy as pulped naturals but it's easier to get
wrong because the outside of the fruit can look fine even if the coffee
bean is fermenting and rotting inside. I've seen more than one farmer
proud of his "natural" coffee even though it was a moldy, nasty mess.
When done correctly it can produce coffee with a very distinct and pleasant
flavor reminiscent of blueberries.
We've produced pulped naturals a couple times before and it was always very
popular. Even though it is requested regularly and sells for a much
higher price, creating pulped naturals is such a hassle that I don't want
to do it unless I have the time to do it correctly. Well, this year
conditions happened to be just right so we produced another batch.
It's a small batch, just enough for a few of our favorite customers.
We'll be offering it soon.
This year is the first time we've ever tried making a batch of full
naturals. It wasn't on purpose though, I've always said I don't want
to make full naturals because it's too risky. I see other farmers
trying and failing. I don't want to risk losing a batch of good
coffee just because I was experimenting. Well, this year an odd
sequence of mistakes forced my hand.
First, our picking crew said they were going to show up but didn't.
Then a winter storm came through with unusually cold and wet weather.
Early in the harvest season the picking crews have no problem working in
the rain. Later in the season, after the picking crews have been
receiving fat paychecks for several months, they are no longer interested
in working in the rain. So our already ripe coffee sat there for a
couple weeks longer than usual. I was not happy. Oddly though,
due to the unusually cold and wet weather, the coffee didn't turn to raisin
like it normally would if not picked in time.
When the rain finally stopped and the pickers finally showed up, the coffee
they picked looked almost ruined. I tried to pulp it as usual but
most of it was rejected by the machine. The delay combined with the
odd weather had allowed the beans to dry while still on the trees. I
was really upset now because I was going to have to throw it all away.
That's when my friend Colin, a friend who had just purchased a new coffee
farm of his own, suggested that I make naturals. My first reaction
was "No, that never works in Kona, everyone that tries it ends up with
moldy, nasty coffee." Colin was adamant that it would work because
the coffee was already almost dried. I argued because I'm the expert
and he's just the new guy. In the end though, I had to admit that he
was correct. The odd chain of events had allowed the coffee to dry on
the trees without turning to raisin. To top it off, the forecast was
predicting sunny and dry weather ahead. All the elements had come
together so we gave it a shot.
We were very nervous at first. It felt odd putting all that cherry
out on the deck. I was sure we were going to end up with a huge mess.
It worked though, by the second day of unrelenting tropical sun, the
coffee was already so dry that we were out of the danger zone. There
was no sign of ants, mold or musty odor. I went from bring angry at
the unreliable pickers and bad weather to being happy at my unusually good
It's not ready yet, it needs to sit and age in our storage room for another
month first. When it is ready, we'll have to do a cupping to make
sure it really is as good as I think it will be. I'm optimistic but I
don't want to promise anything yet.
Of course if it does turn out great, the first few pounds will go to my