Arabica coffee species are grown in tropical countries around the world. Once harvested by hand, arabicas are processed at every farm or community washing station as a fully-washed, semi-washed, honey process, or dry natural process. The use of water varies from region to region and depends on traditional practices and water availability. The use of water in coffee processing is one of the biggest environmental concerns.
After they are hand-picked, ripe coffee “cherries” need to be washed and fermented to remove the peel and mucilage. Over-fermentation is one of the most significant contributors to unpleasant taste in coffee. Recent advances in de-pulping equipment to remove the mucilage by centrifugal force have significantly reduced water use in coffee processing. The environment is the winner because less water is used. This means that any residual water—which has a high concentration of alcohols from the fermentation process—does not return to the creek at a low pH, harming the ecosystem.
The rise in excellent tasting “naturals”—arabica coffees that are naturally sun-dried in the cherry—are a win-win: The use of water is next to zero, and the cup profile is fantastic. As in fully-washed coffees, naturals require proper care in the drying process. I believe that farmers will adopt naturals as a more sustainable and cost-effective post-harvest practice. I hear coffee drinkers wanting less acidity and more flavour in the coffee cup. I believe naturals can deliver on both. The rivers and creeks will thank us.