10 November 2008
We are currently in the middle of the Kona coffee harvest season.
The year has been slightly wetter than usual so the coffee beans are plump
and healthy. The trees are producing slightly less coffee than last
year but with our new pulper we're processing far more than ever before.
After the coffee is pulped, it needs to be dried. Many of the larger
farms and mills use industrial gas dryers. Maybe we'll need one some
day but for now all our coffee is sun dried on our custom built drying
deck. Sun drying takes a bit longer but in Hawaii, sunshine is free.
In the old days coffee farmers built elevated platforms with metal
roofs on rollers. The Japanese called these
hoshidanas. When it was sunny,
they'd roll the roof back so the coffee could dry. When it
looked like rain they'd run out and pull the roof back so the coffee
wouldn't get wet.
Our drying deck is basically just the top floor of the barn. The roof
and walls are clear plastic to let in that powerful tropical sun.
Clear plastic means there's no need to panic when we get an unexpected
downpour. If the entire deck was sealed in with plastic it would act
like a greenhouse, trapping the moisture inside. Instead, the upper
half of the walls are open so the ocean breeze can blow through and
help dry the beans.
Our drying deck is 56 feet long by 24 feet wide, giving us 1344 square
feet of drying space. That may sound like a lot but it fills up fast.
We can fit about 50 bags of coffee on the deck, just enough for one
round of picking. Some of the larger rounds have to be split in half.
As the coffee is drying, it needs to be stirred. We rake it constantly
at first, a little less often as it dries. Our two girls, Sarah and
Emily, make the perfect coffee raking machine. They use the rake I
made out of plywood and an old broom handle. My friend calls it a
ghetto rake. I prefer to think of it as ingenious.
For the most part our drying deck works wonderfully. We can dry an
entire load of coffee beans in a week or two even if it's cloudy every
day. As it turns out, the drying deck isn't only good for drying
coffee, it also makes a great place to dry laundry and race R/C cars.
I am having one dilemma with the drying deck. It's currently nothing
but plywood subfloor. That works ok but there are lots of little nooks
and crannies for the beans to get stuck in. I'd like to have a better
floor surface if I could find a good solution.
Some farmers paint their wood flooring but the paint doesn't last long
and has to be redone every couple years. Other farmers use a concrete
floor but pouring concrete on a raised wooden deck isn't cheap or
easy. I've considered laminate flooring or possibly tile. The heavy
duty composite tiles used in commercial buildings would be perfect. If
only they weren't so expensive.
There is some dispute among coffee farmers as to whether wood,
concrete, plastic or screens work best. I've tried all four
and didn't notice a significant different. Whatever flooring I use, it
has to be tough enough to withstand the abrasion of constantly raking
coffee beans, it has to be water resistant even if the water is
slightly acidic from the coffee bean, it has to tolerate constant sun
and weather, and most importantly it has to be affordable for a poor
I may be hoping for the impossible here. I'll probably end up using
putty to fill the gaps and just painting everything. If you can think
of a better solution, I'd love to hear your ideas.