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Spotting Unicorns: Pulped Naturals and Dry Processed Beans

May 25, 2011

There is a unique coffee processing method that provides a taste so different from ordinary coffee that it's like spotting a unicorn or Bigfoot.

The cup of coffee tastes like blueberries, strawberries, melon, dried apricot, lemon....a kaleidoscope of flavor.  It's such a strong flavor that I serve it to anyone who asks for an introduction to gourmet coffee.

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It's dry processed coffee.  One variant is pulped naturals.  They're also called honeys.  I call them magically delicious.

Generally they're available only from Yemen, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia and India, but we've just begun carrying them from Kona and even Costa Rica as well.  Some pulped naturals were in the blend used by Pete Licata to win the US Barista Championship in 2011 earlier this year.

Dry naturals are just about the most artisanal you'll get in mainstream coffee.  They're hard to get right.

Here's the story.

Remember Mocha Java blend that was popular in the 1970s and 1980s before Starbucks as the main gourmet blend?  It was a combination of Yemen Mocha and earthy coffee from the Indonesian island of Java.  The Yemeni coffee was expensive so it got blended.  The Yemeni coffee was dry processed.  That's where the  coffee berries are picked off the tree and left to dry with the coffee cherry still on.  Inthe Yemeni version, the coffee is aged for months or years.  Then the coffee cherry is taken off, leaving behind the green beans. 

This method of coffee preparation is different from the usual washed / wet processed method where the coffee cherry is separated as quickly as possible from the bean after harvest.

Why is over 95% of the world's arabica coffee wet processed and not dry processed?  Think of wine.  What happens when grapes are taken off the vine and sit on the ground to dry?  They get moldy, grow fungus, rotten, ferment, get off flavors.  That's a similar concern for coffee.  To dry process coffee requires either a dry climate (Ethiopia, parts of India, Brazil) or a greenhouse (or similar contraption) to dry the coffee cherries.  There are lots of ways for the flavor to go wrong.  Off flavors show up if it's not perfect.   Especially a fermentation flavor.

A variant of this is pulped naturals.  This is where just after picking, the coffee skin is removed, exposing the pulp underneath.  These dry faster and with less fermentation because the skin isn't there as an insulating membrane turning the coffee cherry into a greenhouse.   Pulped naturals are also called "honeys."  Rusty's Hawaiian in Ka'u who sells through ROASTe products honeys.

One of our star farms called Kona Earth just experimented with his first batch of  pulped naturals too.  Farmer / Owner Gary Strawn says that pulped naturals take a lot more work than if he were doing the traditional wet mill process.  And there's the chance the whole batch could go wrong.  Luckily he has an amazing batch that is available curently exclusively on ROASTe.

Another way to try dry procesed naturals is to purchased Indian "Monsooned" coffee.  This is where the coffee usually from the Mysore region in India is placed on the ground to dry in a warehouse.  But it's during Monsoon sesaon.  So the strong winds and moisture brush over the coffee.   There are many cycles of wetting and drying.  To me these coffees taste very earthy and mellow without any citrusy flavor.

My favorite is Ethiopian Yirgacheffe or Sidamo as dry processed or pulped naturals.  They taste to me like blueberry flavored coffee.  You can find several on ROASTe.

Try pulped naturals and dry processed coffees.  They'll taste unique.   They also run out very quickly.  I doubt Starbucks will ever have them.  They're truly Third Wave.  They're unicors.  Unique and rarely found.  Enjoy them while you can.





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