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Drying Deck
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.

Rake 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.

Racing 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 coffee farmer.

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.

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