Like many of the finer things in life, it is not just quality farming that contributes to an exceptional end product. Equal care and expertise must also be taken at each step along the process to ensure the quality and longevity of speciality coffee. Having only read and tasted the difference between processing methods before, my journey through El Salvador was a perfect opportunity to observe these different approaches first hand. This also influenced our buying decisions, choosing to represent nearly every processing method in the range we then selected from JASAL.
The journey these coffees take starts with a perfectly ripe, hand-picked cherry. This is delivered at the end of each harvest from the farm to the mill where processing takes place. With the exception of naturals, all other processing types begins with these cherries passing through a de-pulper to separate the seed from the fruit, leaving a bean that is still somewhat coated in its inner mucilage. At this point the pulped-naturals leave the processing chain and are moved to patios to dry. As showcased with the Las Ranas edition of our Seasonal Espresso, pulped-naturals are characterised by their rounded toffee sweetness and clean balance with a lower acidity.
Uniform ripe cherries to be transported from farm to the mill.
From the de-pulper, washed and soaked lots are moved with clean water to tanks where they are soaked overnight. This removes the majority of mucilage, allows for a brief period of fermentation and results in a brighter acidity and more transparent mouthfeel.
In the case of natural process coffees the entire cherry is left in tact to dry on raised beds. This allows for a degree of natural fermentation as the cherry dries around the bean for a number of weeks. Whilst this may sound fairly straight-forward it takes careful daily management to ensure all the coffee dries evenly without over-fermenting. As with natural wines the resulting cup is often considered funky with a heavier body and upfront tropical sweetness.
Naturals drying intact on shaded raised beds
To highlight the unique flavours that can be imparted just through different processing methods, I had arrived in El Salvador with the vague plan of splitting the processing of my favourite lot. One would be washed and soaked, the other would be natural processed. Luckily JASAL were a few steps ahead of me and had already arranged for this with a number of coffees. Having blind cupped through over 40 coffees it seemed rather fortuitous that El Martillo came out as my top ranking lot on both the washed and natural tables. The washed and soaked is transparent in it's golden syrup sweetness, whilst the natural is more driven by tropical fruit and a creamy body.