My rake is better than your rake.
24 Nov 2014
If you've ever visited the farm during harvest season, you've probably been invited to rake the coffee while it dries. If you haven't been invited, just ask, we'd be happy to let you take a turn raking. As Tom Sawyer says, "It's fun!"
I've talked about our coffee drying deck and raking coffee many times before. I've even made a movie about raking coffee so you can see for yourself how fun it is. What I have not yet covered in nearly enough detail is the very important subject of coffee rakes. Big rakes, little rakes, good rakes, bad rakes, we have them all.
Coffee rakes are a serious subject. Every farmer has strong opinions about what rakes work best and how other farmers don't rake properly. There have even been classes on the subject. If you want to build your own coffee rake, a professor at the University of Hawaii has written a paper on the subject. Being a know-it-all farmer, I've decided to ignore Dr. Gautz (PhD in Agricultural Engineering? Bah, I know better!) Instead, I've built my own rakes and of course I like them much better.
The first coffee rake I made, almost a decade ago, is still my favorite rake. I like this rake so much I should give it a name. But that would be silly, what kind of person would name a rake?
If I did name this rake, I would name it Goldilocks because it's not too wide, not too narrow, not too heavy and not too light, it's just right. With tines down it rakes the coffee into nice little rows. With tines up it pushes the coffee into giant piles which is useful when moving the coffee around the deck or scooping it into bags. The vast majority of the time, this rake is the one I reach for first.
Even though the first rake I made is still my favorite and I use it more than any of the other rakes, I'll admit that it's not perfect. It works best when the coffee is spread thin because the spacing between the tines is too small for coffee that is piled deep. Even worse, the way the handle is attached to the rake allows beans to get stuck. I can dislodge the beans by shaking the rake just right but most mere mortals have to use their fingers.
The second rake I made is one of my least favorite rakes. When I built it I was trying to make a new and improved rake. Since then it has become the old, crappy rake. I should probably just throw it away. I made it much wider thinking that would mean fewer passes which would mean less time spent raking. Unfortunately it's so wide that using it is unwieldy. It's too big for most people which means I'm the only one that uses it which means I spend more time raking, not less. I think I'll blame all the stupid people that aren't me.
Besides being too unwieldy, this large rake is also angled wrong. When designing the rake I thought it would be good to attach the handle at an ergonomically correct angle. My efforts backfired. The handle works for pulling the rake but bounces wildly across the deck if the rake is pushed. Basically, the rake is all but useless because of the bad design. This time I have to blame the stupid people that are me.
My third rake is the fancy PVC one I built after attending the workshop with Dr. Gautz from the University of Hawaii. Following the instructions, I started with an old piece of PVC pipe and used a heat gun to carefully bend it into the correct shape for raking coffee. The idea is that the tines slide through the coffee, all the way down to the deck, lifting and stirring the beans thoroughly even when piled several inches deep. The thorough stirring means the coffee dries a little faster, increasing quality while reducing work load.
That all sounds fantastic and I've seen other PVC rakes that work great. Unfortunately, my rake barely stirs the coffee at all. Also, it only works when being pulled and can't be used to push the coffee. I've tried carefully adjusting the tines, they need to be angled just right like the blades of a fan or boat propeller. Maybe I'm just a really crappy rake mechanic but no matter what I tried I couldn't get the rake to work as good as I thought it should.
Even if I got the fancy PVC rake to work as advertised, it's not really what I need anyways. It works best for raking coffee that is piled deep but I'd rather keep the coffee spread as thin as possible so it dries better. That's my excuse for giving up on the PVC rake and I think it's a perfectly fine excuse. If you think you can do better and want to show me how it's done, I have plenty of old PVC and a barely used heat gun so knock yourself out. I've moved on.
My newest rake is my second favorite rake. I thought it was going to be my favorite rake but it's still only my second favorite rake. It will never be my favorite rake because I didn't make it. I was busy one day but Eric, who was working on the farm at the time, needed something to do. To keep him busy, I handed him some rake parts and asked him to build me a rake.
Even though it's an ugly step child, and will never be my favorite, it's still a good rake. As you can see, it's squatter and sturdier than my favorite rake. The tines are larger so it doesn't work quite as good when the coffee is thin but works better when it's piled deep. It's perfect for spreading out wet coffee when it is first piled onto the deck.
This rake is the sturdiest of our rakes but still not quite sturdy enough. That's not Eric's fault, he used the materials I handed him: a rust old lawn trimmer, a chunk of scrap plywood and some used screws. The rake is plenty sturdy until an impatient farmer uses it to ram one giant pile of wet coffee into another giant pile of wet coffee. You might think the farmer would learn to be gentle so the rake doesn't bend but you'd be wrong, some farmers never learn.
I shouldn't give all the love to the coffee rakes, there also a wide selection of brooms that deserve to be mentioned. I'm not sure if I have a favorite broom, both the old broom and the new broom are nice. Over the years the old broom has squished down enough that now it fits under the pulper hose just right. The other day I was too lazy to fetch the old broom (it was way on the other side of the deck) so I used the new broom instead. The new broom doesn't quite fit under the hose though and I spent more time fiddling with it than I would have just walking across the deck to fetch the old broom.
Valerie doesn't like either of those brooms, she prefers the whisk broom. She's wrong, the push brooms work way better, but if she wants to do things the hard way I'm not going to argue. I'm just happy that someone is helping. Truthfully, she rakes the coffee more often than I do so I should know better than to complain. Should. Some farmers never learn.
Over the years I've spent an inordinate amount of time writing about raking coffee and the drying deck. Long time readers might be bored of the subject. Too bad. Chances are good that this won't be the last time I write about raking coffee. It's so fun, I hope the joy never ends.