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Why and how coffee is dried

The coffee drying process is paramount for a successful coffee operation. No matter which drying method selected, attentiveness and timing are key. Yet, the best way to dry coffee is open to debate.

Whether the coffee cherries are washed or unwashed during the processing phase, they still need to be dried accordingly. Each coffee bean must reduce its moisture content from around 60% to  to 10 -12%, in order to develop quality flavour profiles for the end consumer.

It’s often argued that the lengthier (or slower) the drying time, the more complex the cup. However, as it happens, there are various coffee drying methods which can influence the final flavour result.

How is coffee dried?

Historically, coffee will have been left out to dry, on an open earth surface, underneath the baking sun. However, more recently, modern methods have been spawned to enhance drying times and flavours.

Results will have differed over the years, and trial and error will have majorly influenced the variety of coffee drying methods we witness today.

Depending on the origin, the farmer, and the requests of the buyer, coffee drying can be as complex as you make it but it’s often a balance of affordability and practicality.

Key factors also include: humidity, stirring, airflow and the avoidance of additional water.

What are the methods for drying coffee? 

Coffee drying has taken on many formats, from traditional patio and terrace drying to hybrid mechanical dryers. The structure and location of these facilities has a great influence on their performance.

For instance, the surface on which the coffee is dried can impact upon the final flavour. Therefore, farmers have grown to be experimental with cement, brick, bamboo mats, asphalt and wood as they look to harness certain flavour attributes to their regions.

Raised tables with wire mesh, or other technologies that allow for a rapid and convenient method of protection from rain, are found in regions where showers are frequent during harvest. Movable roofs, movable floors or plastic tarpaulins are also employed, in this regard.

Farmers are heavily reliant on the weather in their region, readily available labour and affordable technology, to determine the best outcomes for their coffee.

Elbas

A lot of Colombian farmers relied on Elbas for drying their coffee. An Elba is basically the flat roof of a house (usually the farmer’s own premises). This coffee drying method guarantees direct sunlight, is convenient for ease of maintenance and adds an element of security. The downfall is the exposure to rain and morning dew. To combat this, moveable parts were engineered with steel and corrugated panels, protecting the coffee from any downpour.

Soil Surfaces

Compacted earth is widely used across the globe as a method for drying coffee but it does have its obvious flaws. For one, it generally takes longer, especially if there’s rainfall. Contamination is also another risk farmers face. Despite this, coffee buyers are requesting soil dried coffee, as a route to more earthy flavour notes which consumers seem to enjoy.

Patios/Terraces

Similar to Elbas, patios and terraces are widely available and easy to access. However, maintenance can be tricky.  The coffee cherries must be turned frequently and raked, to prevent bacterial damage. With a thick layer of coffee, stirring and raking needs to occur at least four times each day. Space to spread the harvest to a thinner layer is a major constraint, as well as nature’s elements.

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