Coffee Processing – The Dry Method

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Here's a grainy photo from one of my flights into the Ecuadorian rainforest to pick up coffee, 1997 (Click to enlarge)

As many of our locals know, before we came to Auburn, we were missionaries living in Central and South America.  I worked  as a bush pilot with Mission Aviation Fellowship where I supported the work of missionaries to some degree, but to a greater degree my flying was in support of the indigenous tribes that inhabited the eastern rain-forested jungles of Ecuador.  The tribes includes the Waorani, Shuar, Atshuar and Quichua Indians.

In the northern Ecuadorian  jungle lived several communities of Quichuas (the descendants of the Incas) who grew Arabica coffee. In one community, Arajuno (ah-dah-hun-no), each year they began picking the coffee in November and the picking lasted through the holidays and finished in January.

They processed their coffee the best they could easily in the jungle by laying out plastic sheets on the main street of their community and situating the picked beans onto the black plastic in the sun.  As it baked in the sun and they raked it back and forth throughout the day, the outer layer (pulp) would split, dry out the four layers surrounding the coffee bean and pull away from the inner fruit which is the coffee bean.  This is an example of dry processing.

Dry Processing

The dry-process is often used in countries where rainfall is scarce and long periods of sunshine are available to dry the coffee properly.  Most coffees from Indonesia, Ethiopia, Brazil, and Yemen are dry-processed.

Dry processed coffee. These are the actual cherries with beans still inside after dry processing. Next step is hulling.

The entire cherry ( the red fruit of the coffee plant ) after harvest is placed in the sun to dry on tables, in thin layers on patios or in the case I witnessed in Ecuador, a plastic covered street. It will take between ten days and two weeks for the cherries to completely dry. The cherries need to be raked regularly to prevent mildew while they dry.

Once the skin of the cherry is dry, the pulp and parchment are removed by a hulling process.  This is commonly done by sending the dried cherries off to a mill with machinery to do the hulling.  There also, the sorting and grading occur. While coffee was once all dry processed it is now limited to regions where water or infrastructure for machinery is scarce.

My experience in Ecuador was unique in that this was the rain forest, but somehow they managed to get the coffee dried out enough. When I picked it up, I can remember looking at the dried knurly beans and what I was seeing was the actual bean still encased in the dried out pulp.

Characteristics of Dry Processed Coffee

The dry-process  produces coffee that is heavy in body, sweet, smooth, and complex. They are also lower in acidity (not pH), a flavor characteristic some call “brightness” or other refer to as the dry characteristics of a good red wine.

Probably the best example of a dry processed coffee we have in our inventory would be our Sumatra.  Of course there are slight variations on the dry process and my experience has been that Sumatra while often a dry processes can have a slight mildewy taint.  That’s not a negative but an actual characteristic common to many Sumatrans.

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In our next article, we will talk about the more common processing method known as wet processing.

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Sandy Toomer is Roast Master and part owner of Toomer’s Coffee Roasters, a premium specialty coffee roaster located in Auburn, Alabama.

Where do coffee beans come from?

This is the first is a multi-part series on coffee to help educate our customers.

First, there are two types of coffee beans

Coffee beans come from two basic versins of coffee plants: either the Robusta ( aka Coffea robusta, or Coffea canephora) or Arabica (aka Coffea arabica) version.

At Toomer’s Coffee Roasters we do not roast or sell Robusta beans. I once asked our coffee broker how much Robusta they sell and she said less that 5% of their total volume is Robusta. While it is higher in caffeine content (the main reason I guess a dubious roaster might add it..to jack up the “vibrancy” of their blends), the overall taste issues and roasting peculiarities she said make it a less than desirable option.

Arabica beans on the other hand, while lower in caffeine content have a number of factors that make them the number #1 preference amongst 99% of roasters today, taste being the main factor.  But we will cover that in a later articel specifically on Arabica beans.

They start life as a fruit

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Coffee beans start out "Cherries" (Click to enlarge)

Arabica beans are grown on low (3-6 feet) shrubby plants that bear white blossoms that produce the coffee fruit called “cherries” (about the size and color of cranberries).

These coffee cherries are clustered along the limbs of the plant ( See image).  The cherries are harvested from approximately October through January each year.  Since the coffee cherries do not ripen together, several pickings of the the same plant may be required until all of the cherries have been harvested at the peak of ripenness.

This is the first step in the chain of factors that seperates fair coffee from truly exceptional coffee: only picking the red cherries.  Mixing in under-ripe/ greenish cherries with red cherries will result in bitter coffee no matter how well it is roasted.

In our next article we will talk about the regions beans are grown in and how that affects flavor.

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Get to know Auburn’s Coffee Roaster

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Roast Master, Sandy Toomer checks the progress of each roast step by step to perfection!

From the beginning we felt the only way we could keep our product consistent with our own expectations would be  by roasting our own coffee.  We like to think of ourselves as a coffee roaster first and a coffee shop second.  The shop is where we display our craft, much as first class art gallery is a show place for fine art.

That said here is a short FAQ about our coffee roasting operation:

What exactly do you mean by “custom roasted”?

Just that; we roast using customized roast profiles for each coffee depending on where it was grown, the altitude and process used to process the bean (i.e wet or dry process) .  Profiles are similar to recipes, except there is only one ingredient, high grade Arabica coffee beans.  The customization is the way each bean is roasted by varying several factors such as time, temperature, length of roast.

Where do you get your beans?

We primarily work through a coffee brokerage firm who imports coffee from all over the world for us.  They buy various grades from each country and we in turn choose which beans we buy based on their offering.

However this year we are working on several import arrangements with a number of small family, tribal and community coop coffee farms in Central America and the Asiatic region to purchase their coffees direct.  This is what we call Friendship Coffee.  Our goal is develop a personal relationship with our farms in these regions.

If all goes well, someday we hope to offer tours to visit these new friends!

Currently we are test roasting and cupping to validate sample batches of these coffees.

How do you roast coffee?

First, someone has to teach you.  It’s a craft. A craft is a passionate enterprise and we are passionate about good coffee.

Sandy was taught by Mr. Stephen Diedrich at Diedrich Manufacturing in Sandpoint, Idaho.  In the beginning Diedrich Coffee Roasters was a Southern, California icon of custom roasted coffee for decades (read more).  They built their own coffee roasters and eventually branched their coffee roaster manufacturing off as a separate enterprise. Hence, today we have Diedrich Manufacturing; considered the Rolls Royce of roasters.  We use a Diedrich 7 kilo IR Roaster.

Next, you buy the best green Arbica coffee beans.  We currently work through an acclaimed broker in New York and import coffees from:

Sumatra and Papua New Guinea (Indonesia)
Tanzania, Kenya ,and Ethiopia (Africa)
Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Columbia and Brazil (Central & So. America)
India

We also have our own house blends, such as top seller, our Auburn City Blend, Christmas Morning (seasonal), Harvest Morning (seasonal) and of course our proprietary Espresso Blend (for espresso based drinks).

In addition we offer a half dozen flavored coffees: Vermont Maple Nut, Snickeroo, Southern Pecan, Kahlua & Creme, Vanilla Butter Cream, and our own blend called Caribbean Cruise

Give us a try and you will taste the 14 day difference

The primary variation between our coffees and what you typically buy in the store has to do with the 14 day window.

When you roast coffee the heating initiates a chemical reaction that generally lasts for 14 days.  This is why so many coffees are packages with those valves you see.  Because for the first 14 days or so after roasting the coffee produces it’s trademark aroma.  Without the valve the bag would rupture.  After 14 days, that stops.

The trademark aromas range from chocolate, fruity, winy, floral notes, and so on.  Actually each coffee will normally produce a range of aromatic values in each cup.

You don’t get this in mass produced coffees.

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Want to share some of this unique taste from the “loveliest village on the plains”?    However if you are looking for another not listed, just call us.  We’re a family owned operation and thus you are dealing directly with the owners!

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