Just like consumption of coffee is explained in waves, processing of coffee at the farm can also be categorized in waves. Obviously, the first wave refers to the process used when humans first started consuming coffee. One need not guess that this process was the natural process.
After the industrial revolution, production went up to meet growing demand and we needed a way to make larger volumes of more consistent product. Coffee is grown close to the equator or in near-equatorial climates which means that it rains almost every day, even during harvest.
One way of getting coffee to dry faster is to remove the outer skin and so the process of pulping / washing was born. This not only helped the bean to dry faster but it also separated the un-even berries and yielded a more consistent lot with softer, more predictable flavours. This works very well for mainstream commercial coffee industry and so washed coffee trades at a higher price than its natural processed counterpart.
Washing requires equipment which in turn needs investment and so small farmers are kept out of this market. One answer to this is co-operatives or collectives where groups of small and medium farmers have community washing stations thereby benefiting everyone in the group. India however did not follow this path and continued the traditional process of naturals. Over a period of time, anyone who got an opportunity joined this bandwagon by installing a pulping / washing station and this lead to washed coffee becoming the norm in terms of value addition.
Today, the world is a lot more accepting of uniqueness and many consumers are now looking for products that are away from the mainstream. Suddenly, those small farms that were at a disadvantage because they couldn’t join the pulping / washing bandwagon can now skip this step and rejoin the race at par if not in front of those who were ahead. The rules haven’t changed. Consistency and repeatability are still key parameters. What changed is that pulping / washing is not the only way to achieve this.
There is enough information available free on the internet for anyone to start their own journey into adding value to their coffee through differentiation in processing. What seems to be missing though is the consumption habit and thereby the inability to form an opinion or get an insight into what a consumer might like. Coffee is not consumed for nutrition and so a story helps to sell it. The story can’t be fiction and so it tends to revolve around the experience of consumption at origin. This requires the people at origin to actually consume it! “It’s your coffee, you must know the best way to consume it?”