Crimson Cup Partners with Otterbein University Engineering in Competition to Automate Coffee Drying

Columbus, Ohio coffee roaster Crimson Cup Coffee &Tea recently sponsored an engineering competition at Otterbein University’s Harpster Engineering Lab to design a mechanical coffee parchment raking system. Twelve teams of students competed in the contest. Members of the winning team included Lorraine Burger, Mitchell McClain and Adam Stotler.

“Working with Dr. Michael Hudoba, we asked student teams to develop an automated coffee drying system that could increase efficiencies on the farm by reducing labor,” said Coffee Buyer Dave Eldridge. “Improving control over the drying process is one way to improve the consistency of coffee quality and reduce waste.”

Dr. Hudoba said, “Engineering, at its core, is about solving problems. The project we developed with Crimson Cup was a great way for Otterbein Engineering students to put their skills into practice and solve a real-world problem from an industry partner.”

Eldridge noted that coffee is an incredibly labor-intensive crop. Coffee trees produce cherries, which workers pick by hand. A de-pulping process separates the outer fruit from the seeds that are the actual coffee beans. After de-pulping, however, a heavy layer of mucilage still surrounds the beans.

The wet process of preparing coffee requires steeping the de-pulped coffee beans in large cisterns filled with water to allow the mucilage to ferment off the bean. Once fermentation is complete, a layer of parchment still surrounds the coffee beans, which must be dried before this parchment can be removed.

In patio drying, workers spread coffee beans in parchment on concrete patios to dry in the sun. Using a raised drying bed offers more control and consistency. However, both methods require workers to rake or turn the beans by hand to ensure even drying and prevent mildew.

“We challenged students to come up with a machine that would reduce labor requirements while improving the efficiency of parchment drying process,” Eldridge said. “They were judged on drying efficiency and consistency as well as power consumption, since electrical power is often not available on remote coffee farms.” Students used 9-volt batteries as a power source so that the equipment could run on simple solar panels in the field.

Hudoba said that Otterbein focuses not only on form and function, but also on teamwork and technical communication. “The great thing about these projects is the freedom we give to the students to create and innovate,” he said. “We give them a problem statement, a budget and design parameters. The rest is up to them. This freedom to be creative is what allowed our students to come up with really unique solutions to a challenging problem.”

The team that won the competition demonstrated the best percentage of bean turn while operating on a raised screen drying bed that allows airflow from below.

“The most outstanding feature of their design was the coding that went into the power usage,” Eldridge said. “They were able to extend the use of the battery beyond the other teams and offer more raking of the beans, which results in a more consistent product.”

As the client, Eldridge consulted with student teams throughout the semester. “It was a pleasure to work with Dr. Hudoba and his students on this project,” he said. “I was impressed by the creativity the teams displayed in coming up with unique approaches.”

Noting that Crimson Cup works with numerous small-plot coffee farmers through its Friend2Farmer direct trade program, Eldridge said the company’s ongoing goal is to help farmers improve coffee quality and consistency so they are able to receive a better price for their product.

About Crimson Cup Coffee &Tea

Columbus, Ohio coffee roaster Crimson Cup Coffee &Tea is Roast magazine’s 2016 Macro Roaster of the Year. Since 1991, Crimson Cup has roasted sustainably sourced specialty and craft coffee in small batches, which it sells directly to consumers and as wholesale coffee beans. The company also teaches entrepreneurs to run successful coffee houses through its coffee franchise alternative program, which includes a coffee shop business plan. Crimson Cup coffee is available through a community of more than 350 independent coffee houses, grocers, college and universities, restaurants and food service operations across 36 states, Guam and Bangladesh, as well as the company’s own Crimson Cup Coffee Houses. To learn more, visit

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