Tuesday, March 21, 2006
El Salvador...Again, what the heck is a pulped natural?
Last week Jeri Idso and I went for a quick visit to El Salvador. The harvest is winding down, most of the cherries are off the trees, beans are resting in parchment and shipments are going out daily. The coffee has rested for a while and much more high altitude coffee is now in the mix, so it cups a lot better than samples I cupped in mid- January.
In order to understand what a pulped natural is, and why you might want to buy one, you need to think about the ways coffee is processed. So first let us review: under the skin of a coffee cherry is a layer of mucilage, a sticky sweet fruit. Under this stuff is the parchment or pergamino, and under the parchment is the coffee bean.
After the ripe cherries are picked there are four different ways to proceed with the processing, and each creates a different taste profile (not counting what goes on in Sumatra which I trust you’ll appreciate we not discuss at this time). There are many slight variations, but the four main processes are:
1. De-mucilage Process—strip off the mucilage immediately and dry the parchment. Very common in Costa Rica and Colombia
2. Fermented and fully washed Process--- put the de-pulped cherries into a tank and let the mucilage dissolve, then wash and dry the parchment. A very traditional and common process utilized by most fine mild coffee producers such as Guatemala, Kenya and Panama, to name but a few.
3. Naturals---dry the cherries with the skin still on. Ripe cherry is simple dried. The cherry dehydrates and becomes woody and hard. Before the coffee is exported, the dried cherry and parchment are milled off the bean. This is, for example, the way Yemen and Ethiopian Harrar are processed.
4. Pulped Natural---to create a pulped natural, you do something in between the washed and natural processes. First, the cherry skin is removed as in the washed process, but then what remains, sticky fruit and all, goes directly to the drying patio and is dried with a great deal of attention. Constant raking and turning of the sticky wet parchment is critical. If the coffee is not turned and dried just right, very bad things can happen.
I am told by JASAL in El Salvador that they have the secret for making great pulped naturals… and that secret is… location, location, location.
At the Las Cruces mill in El Salvador, JASAL has what they believe are unique and ideal conditions: constant breezes, full sunshine during the day, and relatively cool, dry nights. About three years ago JASAL started experimenting with the pulped natural process. They’ve sent samples to us, and we cupped coffee there, usually not aware of how the coffee was processed. In blind cupping, we kept picking out the pulped natural among our favorites.
The truth is we don’t really care how coffee is processed---we’re looking for the best cupping coffees. That being said, I think we have tried enough of these pulped natural coffees to be able to highly recommend them. They become bigger, fuller, more flavorful, a bit more fruit, and yet they don’t lose acidity. Many coffee people try them and think about making great espresso..so do we.
We have a great line up of coffees from El Salvador. Check out the offering list. A personal tip….the Cerro las Ranas SHB for the second half of the year...Come this October it should be as good a Central American coffee as can be found.