Part of the Argote fermentation experiment was to taste the difference between two batches that were both fermented for 18 hours, but where one was dried on patio, the other was dried on raised beds. Even though there wasn’t a clear winner, most people already familiar with assessing coffee quality could discern the difference. The patio-dried coffee had more body and intensity, whereas the coffee dried on raised beds was a bit more complex. One of the reasons for this difference is, of course, the extended fermentation time on raised beds.

Producers and exporters have been promoting raised beds for quite some time, as they allow for slower drying, which is usually perceived to be better. It definitely increases shelf life, and it might extend fermentation by a tiny bit. Since patios store heat during the day, they quickly dry coffee even at night and can get washed coffee dry in half the time that raised beds would need. Moreover, they are a bit more reliable in some ways, since they allow for proper airflow through the cherries that allow for more even drying and reduce the risk of mold.

In specialty coffee, we are usually looking for more acidity and complexity, so I can see where the preference for raised beds drying comes from. However, I do see that it causes issues with some of the coffees we work with. One example is the La Argentina that exhibits funky, fermenty flavours due to overfermentation. In this case, it is something I really appreciate in the coffee, but I do know that chances are slim of the coffee having the same traits next year.

Another example that shows the benefits of patio drying, or in this case even quicker mechanical drying, is the Las Lajas farm in Costa Rica. Part of their black honey lot was first drying mechanically, after which it got transferred to raised beds. The other part of their lot was immediately dried on raised beds. The raised beds microlot showcased fermenty flavours that surprised consumers on the cupping table, but that were very similar to other overfermented coffees. The mechanically dried microlot, on the other hand, stayed true to the character of the coffee.

Basically, a coffee producer has many dimensions of this issue to consider. Patio (quicker) drying takes less time and is more controllable. I believe that producers can certainly benefit from closely monitoring their fermentation times and then quickly drying their coffee to ensure the proper flavour composition. However, there is a certain risk involved, and slower drying will extend the shelf life of a coffee and therefore reduce risk with the importers.

Do you have any experiences with different drying methods of the same lot? Leave a comment below and get in touch!