The definitions of ‘super’, according to the definitive source of definitions Wordhippo.com, can be defined as:
Super (ˈsü-pər )
1. Of excellent quality, superfine.
2. Better than average, better than usual; wonderful.
(informal) Very; extremely (used like the prefix super-).
(beekeeping) An empty box placed above the existing boxes of the beehive in order to allow the colony to expand or store additional honey.
These definitions, when placed in front of ‘natural’, and then in turn, placed in front of ‘coffee’, conjure up feelings of soaring transcendence. And a healthy dose of vagueness. Particularly the last definition. I threw that one in there for whimsy, it has nothing to do with us.
Supernatural is a relatively new concept on the coffee processing circuit, and it’s interesting, it’s producing some great results, and will challenge how we think coffee should be processed and how it should taste. What a time to be alive!
But what is it.
I would say that it’s more of a concept than a singular method. A way of approaching the coffee with an adventurous spirit, while unyielding on quality. But if we must, the current definition of what constitutes a supernatural coffee, is a lot utilising two or more of the following techniques in the processing stage:
Increasing temperature to speed up fermentation rates
Decreasing temperature to lengthen fermentation times
Thick-stack drying at various depths on raised beds
Shade drying to slow down drying times at different levels of moisture in the cherries
Covering or wrapping the cherries to retain heat and moisture for short bursts of time
The combination is up to you! Up to the farmer, actually, but they can play around with various techniques, layer them, change the order, and respond to how the coffee is developing and adject the techniques used accordingly. The aim of the game here is not to achieve the clean and delicate profiles associated with washed coffees, rather enriched sweetness, complexity, body, and flavour. A truer, or more lively expression of the coffee at its origin.
Where it came from
Saša Šestić of Project Origin developed this experimental method with Mauricio Salaverria of El Salvador. Saša visited Mauricio in 2011, when he was already trialling various natural processing techniques like thick stack drying (which can be susceptible to over-fermentation, but when done well, shivers it is tasty), and on cupping exclaimed “this coffee tastes… supersonic!”
The ‘Supersonic’ lot went on to place 5th in the COE as the highest placed natural, and Mauricio and Saša continued to carefully and boldly experiment with the trickier techniques, naming the process ‘Supernatural’
Where it’s going.
It’s a brave step for anyone to step away from standard convention to pursue something new, especially if there’s no guarantee it’ll succeed, and extra (super) especially if your livelihood depends on its success.
Mauricio and others have taken a risk, branching from the excellent washed coffee El Salvador produces, and are generating outstanding results. Their coffees are exciting and different, and will change our perception of what we consider ‘good’ coffee to be. From my (purely qualitative, small sample size) research, the term ‘specialty coffee’ is associated with clean and delicate profiles and predominantly washed coffees. With the exception of a rare few naturals that are also on the cleaner side.
I hope a couple of things with the rise of supernatural coffee. First, farmers discover a love for experimentation and a playfulness in coffee production in the capacity they have access too. It’s not as convenient for many farms to use washing stations as their primary method, and so utilising what is available in new interesting ways could be far more economical. I believe this combination will inevitably lead to tastier coffee for you and me. Very important. Secondly, that the consumer market will develop a palette and a space on their shelves for these experimental lots that are processed with the same strict standards, but a different personality.
We have an Indian Supernatural on our shelves right now, and we are loving the pants off of it. It’s full of sweet toffee, peppery spice, and encapsulates the essence of the sub tropical terroir. We think you’re going to love it.