Anaerobic Naturals: Washed Coffee’s Funky Cousin

Anaerobic Naturals: Washed Coffee’s Funky Cousin

Looking for our washed coffee article? Read it here!

Written by Claire Bullard, Airship's Sales Manager. The truth is that she's much more than that, and she wears an insane amount of hats around here - including fermentation nerd. We couldn't do any of it without her.

The coffee industry was a soft place for me to land in 2015 when I didn’t know what I wanted for myself professionally. Since then I’ve been able to sell incredible coffee to a lot of people who are cooler than I’ll ever be, alongside folks who keep me laughing. What more could you ask for? You can find me taking two o’clock hot laps on my bike behind the roastery or in a cafe struggling to choose whether to stir my double shot of espresso or not. Don’t be a stranger!


Most of us at Airship are nerds about coffee processing. The way a coffee is processed can affect its flavor far more than the regional characteristics or variety. When I order a coffee or buy a bag of beans, I’m way more interested in the processing method than the country it came from. I was excited to write about processing and even more excited to write about my favorite; anaerobic naturals. 

Some of my favorite foods are products of fermentation. Kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, cheese, etc. The funkier the better. Believe it or not, almost all coffee processing involves varying degrees of fermentation. Anaerobic natural fermentations are becoming more and more popular over the last few years for the complex flavors they produce and the stability they can offer farmers in an unstable market. 

By definition, anaerobic simply means requiring the absence of oxygen. Merely hours after being picked the coffee cherries are loaded into large drums or barrels, the oxygen is removed, and they’re sealed with only a small valve for carbon dioxide (the byproduct of the fermentation process) to escape without allowing oxygen to be introduced. By taking oxygen out of the equation, farmers are able to slow down the process (yeast & bacteria activity) and allow for a wider spectrum of flavors to develop. Pretty much every coffee process involves at least a small amount of fermentation but anaerobic fermentation relates to the environment around the coffee fruit being without oxygen in the sealed barrels or drums, often for much longer. Different from a washed fermentation that can span 12-24 hours, anaerobic fermentations can commonly go for about 96 hours. 

The final product results in a level of deep complexity and sweetness that is difficult to achieve with a standard natural process. It’s not impossible to achieve wacky, complex flavors without this type of processing, it’s just not as dependable. 

Once a farmer is able to harness this type of processing, the options are endless. We would love to see more farmers have the process so dialed that the yield is reproducible and less of a risk for a farmer to take on. Farmers are able to charge more for these kinds of coffees and we’re always willing to pay for quality innovation.

If you’re interested in learning more about what’s going on in the tanks or the work being done to help farmers access this knowledge, I’d recommend reading or watching some of the work by Lucia Solis. She’s a winemaker turned coffee processing specialist who’s career revolves around closing the information gap between producers and consumers. 

Stay tuned for the anaerobic zingers we’ll be dropping this year. Embrace the funk!


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