Coffee is a curious fruit. Do we value any other type of cherry for its pit while discarding the flesh? Incidentally, this critical step of fruit removal is referred to as processing. How this processing is done has a tremendous impact on cup character.
Put simply, there are three processing categories: Washed, natural, and hybrid.
Washed coffees are popular where there is an abundance of fresh water. The cherries have an outer layer mechanically stripped off and the inner pulp is allowed to ferment for a prescribed time. The fermented pulp layer is then removed with fresh flowing water.
Natural coffees do not use any water and are therefore associated primarily with producing regions that tend to be dryer. With naturals, the fruit is left to shrivel like a raisin before being removed through milling.
Hybrid processes typically incorporate aspects of both of these methods with an intention to strike a balance between them.
Much like the spectrum in wine between deep dark reds and subtle nuanced whites, there is an equally noteworthy scope in coffee between naturals and washed coffees with hybrids in the middle.
As a rule, naturals tend to be berry-like, complex, rich, and wild. Washed coffees are generally bright, clean, and balanced with celebrated subtlety.