A unique experiment in coffee processing methods. Wet Process, Pulp Natural, and Natural Dry processing methods are done on a small lot of coffee all of the same varietal, from the same plot of land, and harvested on the same day. There is a clear progression of flavors and characteristics shown in the cup and it is a great opportunity to see how process affects not just the cup, but roasting as well.
Finca El Manzano is located 10 miles to the southeast of Santa Ana and is owned by Margarita Diaz de Lopez who is the great granddaughter of Cornelio Lemus who founded the farm in 1872. The farm is home to the cutting edge Beneficio De Manzano established by CuatroM Single Origin Coffees in 2005. CuatroM has sold coffee from El Manzano to Atlas Coffees for the last couple of years, and they introduced us to this really exciting and unique opportunity to look at El Manzano's coffee processing experiments. While total production is around 700,000 lbs, the Beneficio has been built to carefully handle small lots, and in this case offer 3 different processing methods of the same coffee. This 100% Bourbon varietal was all harvested from the same plot (identified as the El Palmero plot), on the same day, (12/29/09), and then processed using three different methods: Wet Process, Pulp Natural, and Full Natural (Dry Process). The coffee was brought to the Beneficio after harvest and then through a cleverly designed receiving station were separated to go to either the pulper and then fermentation tanks, or the demucilager and then to patio drying, or straight to the drying patios (after a careful cleansing of the whole fruit). Usually when looking at the differences that these processing methods give to the coffee, there is not the same level of control in that the coffee was most likely harvested and processed at different times, from different plots at different altitudes, and could very well be a blend of various varietals. In this experiment, Emilio Lopez Diaz (the VP of CuatroM), wanted to get as clear a picture as possible of the difference processing method makes. We are offering this experiment as a 3-pack of one pound of each of the three processes because we feel that this a unique learning opportunity not just in understanding the taste differences of these processes, but the roasting differences as well. Watch how each process reacts leading up to and during the first crack: the washed coffee (and the pulp natural to a slightly lesser extent) seem to resist the crack and need a little more of a push, while the full natural moves into the crack and it was vital not to let it run away. I will start a thread on the SM forum since I am curious to find out what other peoples' experiences are with these coffees.
Cupping these coffees is a exciting intellectual experience. There is a pronounced difference in the cup, but at the same time a very logical progression of the development of certain flavors and characteristics which show how similar the coffees are as well. The coffee itself is sweet and bright, not a lot of delicate floral notes, but the transformation is clear. One interesting thing was that my scores increased with the amount of coffee cherry that was left on the parchment; meaning, in my opinion the natural was the best of the three, with the pulp natural being second, and the washed lacked the complexity and dimensions offered in the two other processes. The score on the spider graph reflects the full natural process, but I have individual scores for each process at the end of their respective cupping notes. Generally where the scoring differed was in the body-mouthfeel and the depth of flavor categories.
The dry aroma has bright apple notes with added caramel sweetness at City and City+, and a full on molasses at Full City where this coffee begins to show smokiness as well. There is a classic malty sweetness in the wet aroma and the break. The cup is simple and clean, I kept thinking of the word "purity". A bright apple note, slightly brassy at first, and apple juice-like or thin satin body at City roast, with the apple taking on some deeper cranberry undertones in City+. The City+ roast level also opens up the middle a bit more, and the crispness of the apple isn't as prevalent in the finish. The malt and caramel in the City roast keeps growing sweeter and sweeter as it cools, and while there is a crisp bite to the acidity, it's never too sharp and never shows any vegetal qualities. Would not recommend a Full City roast for this coffee. Without any signs of crack in the drum, there was already a dominant smokiness to the cup that covered up all of the sweet and bright apple and cranberry notes. I found the City roast level to have the most clarity and articulation of flavors in the cup.
The dry aroma of the City roast level has a fruit skin or zest note in it that carries through the wet aroma and the break. The cup has a sweet spice and raisin with again the fruit skin note that reminded me of the skin of a nectarine in a fruit salad. The skin note kind of cracks me up, since it is the skin of the coffee that was actually removed by the demucilager. There is a very textural middle with a general muddled quality to the body that's never earthy or harsh but reminiscent of a muddled cocktail with the sugary sweetness of a bruised stone fruit. The City roast does show some dry cereal or pie crust notes as it cools while the City+ roast has slight violet and lavender honey notes and a tanginess which is balanced with the viscous body. The Full City roast showed some smokiness but had a nice snappy nectarine in the middle and held it's sweetness well. Not as clarified as the washed process, but the added complexity to the body and depth of flavor gives it a slight edge point wise; although, because of the lack of clarity in the cup I could see some cuppers scoring this in the 85 range.
Natural (Dry Process):
Violet and fruit punch in the dry aroma at City, while City+ has a deep nectarine that turns more towards plum in the wet aroma with pie spices. The break promises a bowl full of various stone fruits in honey, and the first sips of both the City and City+ roasts are incredibly juicy, juicy down the wrist after the first bite juicy. The sweetness is intense, but never cloying, and the body just keeps getting more and more syrupy as the cup cools. For all the nectarine and plum and blackberry in this coffee and the rich syrupy body, it's actually not that complex. Just like the full washed process, there is a purity and clarity in the flavors presented here. The Full City roast shows less smoke than the two other processes at that level, and there is some presence of bitter chocolates along with buttery pie crust notes in the finish. I could see this as an espresso component or as a single origin shot itself. The City+ roast has the most balance between the tanginess, sweetness, and syrupy body. It is interesting to me to see the notes hinted at in the pulp natural become fully realized in this cup. Really sense that on the whole there is a very logical progression of characteristics in each process, and in the end that using the full natural dry process on this coffee improved on what was presented in the wet process.