Coffee News: from Seed to Cup

How to Dry Natural Coffee on Raised Beds

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There’s a reason natural coffee has become more popular. As processes have improved, it’s become possible to produce a sweet, fruity, and clean coffee. It uses less water and energy. And it requires less infrastructure.

In other words, it’s good-quality, eco-friendly, and inexpensive – a magic trio, if you have the right climate for it.

But that’s only when done right. And to get the best natural coffee, you’re going to want to dry it on a raised bed. Here’s how.

Spanish Version: Cómo Secar Café Natural en Camas Elevadas

Harvesting

Before you even get to the drying stage, you need to pay attention to harvesting. If you’re cultivating high-quality coffee, you want to make sure you pick it at its best – and that’s when it’s ripe.  

This means doing selective picking, and only gathering cherries that are ripe. You may have to do several pickings each harvest because of this.

 Ripe and unripened cherries

Ripe and unripened cherries on the same branch. Credit: Larry Jacobsen.

The First Drying Stage

Every day, when the harvest of ripe coffee comes in, it’s important to spread the coffee on top of the beds and give each section a name with a sign. Don’t forget the sign! You don’t want to get your coffees confused.

Keep the cherries no more than 3 inches thick, so that they can get good air movement. It’s important to move them every 3-4 hours so that the bottom and top dry equally. Also, during this stage remove any that are overripe or underripe. Make sure that the coffee is a uniform color for consistent, high-quality cup profiles

The Second Drying Stage

After three to five days, the coffee will begin to feel like rubber – like a gummy bear, in fact. At this point, you can pile the cherries 5-6 inches thick along the bed to open up space.

However, you still have to keep moving the coffee to ensure it dries uniformly. Do this at least twice a day.

The Final Drying Stage

After three to four more days more, you start to have more options. Many producers will move the coffee into their rotary dryers to ensure even drying and finish it for resting. However, there are also a lot of producers who finish it on the drying beds.

It’s important to dry the coffee to less than 11% moisture content and, in order to do this, good heat is required. So if you’re getting heat during the day at around 29-31°C, there will be no problem with finishing the coffee on the beds.

However, if it’s colder than that, you may need to use a transparent tarp or other plastic covering. This will increase the heat. Or use that rotary dryer.

Also, be aware that humidity can be a problem. If you have high humidity, I don’t recommend trying to dry it on the beds – even with a tarp.

SEE ALSO: Coffee Processing: How to Build African Raised Beds

Storage

Once you finish each batch, it’s time to bag and tag the coffee. Make sure to mark the bags with the name and date of each coffee. Then keep them stored in a cool and dry location until your purchaser or transporter is ready to pick them up.

Damarli Estate

Drying Typica Naturals at Damarli Estate. Credit: Keith Pech

We produce specialty products in a tough market. It’s important for stay on top of global trends; it helps us produce better coffee and it helps us stay competitive.

Right now, high-quality naturals are coming into fashion, they’re cost-effective, and they have the ability to be exceptional.

Written by K. Pech, a Panamanian Producer, Damarli Estate Manager, and Arabica Q-Grader.

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