When coffee processing began there was little infrastructure in place; general knowledge of how to perform any task was uncommon. There was no access to equipment like trucks, depulpers or even road access. This forced the majority to post harvest process coffee naturally.
Henry Ford sparked the industrial revolution and it greatly impacted the coffee industry by increasing the demand and usage of petroleum. Trucks allowed producers to move coffee around with ease and petroleum powered pulping machines made depulping coffee less laboring. Producers were able to process more volume every harvest.
The coffee industry boomed and the mindset was quantity over quality. The hand to hand love that was once cherished by many producers was loosing its grip. Larger volume called for larger surface area and biodiversity and agroforestry was sacrificed to plant more coffee. Less shade grown trees meant a higher yield, but at the cost of good soil conditions. Many species of birds and fauna were forced to migrate elsewhere.Natural processed coffee has the lowest impact on the environment, because it uses the least amount of water and petroleum. Water is the most affected resource in coffee growing regions. Many water sources in rural areas are impotable due to honey water from coffee pulp being discarded into rivers. There is no way that a coffee producer cannot contaminate water during the washed process, they can only minimize their impact to the best of their ability. A few ways that a producer can have less negative impact on their water sources are:
- Reduce water usage. Be conscious and recycle your water.
- Have a tank or build an area to store your water, instead of discarding it back into the water reserves.
- Construct a cheap and easy to build rock filtration systems with activated carbon and microorganisms to kill bacteria and purify your water.
Specialty coffee has gained more interested in recent years and natural processed coffees are back on the scene, jumping off cupping tables. The new generation of coffee producers have access to more education about post harvest processing and have been experimenting, meanwhile trial and error has led to better quality coffee. As coffee transitions back to its natural roots, it's important to be aware of the potential threats washed coffee can bring to a farming community. A responsible coffee buyer should be conscious about how their producers treat their water sources and general environment.