Dry Coffee Beans to Stop Fermentation

A recent news release regarding coffee production in Honduras refers to the need to dry coffee beans to stop fermentation. Coffee, whether regular of healthy organic coffee, needs to ripen to the right degree and no more. Remember that the coffee that we drink comes from the seed of the coffee berry and not the fruit. An integral part of processing coffee is to remove the fruit down to the coffee seed. This is often done by immersing the coffee in water for sixteen to thirty-six hours. At that point the fruit has loosened and can be washed away. The ripening or breakdown or fermentation of the fruit makes this possible. However, the seed also ferments and this process needs to be stopped before it results in unwanted changes in coffee flavor. So, processors dry coffee beans to stop fermentation. The problem mentioned in the article about Honduras is that they have ramped up coffee production in that country and have run out of space in existing facilities to dry coffee beans to stop fermentation. The article mentions that one processor rented a soccer stadium, spread plastic sheets and dried his coffee where the local “futbol” team usually played.

Drying machines can be used as well as air drying in the sun. The problem for coffee processors in a country like Honduras is cost. Honduras is relatively competitive in the Arabica coffee market, behind Brazil and Colombia and in a tie with Mexico. Land prices are cheap as is labor in the countryside. During the dry season the cheapest way to dry coffee beans to stop fermentation is to spread them out in thin layers in the hot tropical sun. When the rainy season starts processors need to use machines, typically natural gas, diesel, or electric driven and there goes the cost advantage. To dry coffee beans to stop fermentation the beans are dried to eleven to twelve percent moisture content. If coffee is soaked too long (past 36 hours) or drying is not started promptly individual coffee beans develop an offensive aroma and are referred to as stinkers. In fact the entire batch will eventually go bad if not dried. Bad coffee can be sold at very low prices in the country of origin but there go any profits the processor may have dreamed of getting for his organic whole bean coffee.

Perception is important in the coffee business. If an exporter sends out an occasional bad batch of coffee his reputation suffers. He does not get orders the next year. This problem works back up the supply chain to growers. If the processor does not adequately dry coffee beans to stop fermentation the work of the small organic coffee farmer goes to waste. Organic coffee certification is not any good if buyers get a bad bag of coffee. The small grower needs to pay for Bio Latina organic coffee certification but the money goes to waste if processing is not up to par. In the end the processors in a growing market like Honduras need to buy $70,000 coffee driers and absorb the cost of fuel to dry coffee beans to stop fermentation and maintain coffee quality.

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