Depending on the variety, coffee plants can take anywhere between four and six years to mature. Once they start bearing fruit, coffee farmers wait for the cherries to turn a deep red to begin harvesting.
Here, we’ll be diving deep into the coffee harvesting process.
Methods of harvesting coffee
In general, there is one primary harvest per year (except for Colombia, where harvests take place twice a year). Coffee harvesting can be done by hand or through mechanised means. However, the coffee harvesting method also depends on the processing method used by each farm.
Three ways to harvest coffee
There are three primary methods of harvesting coffee, and each farm or region has its own preferred technique.
- Selective harvesting: This is the most widely used coffee harvesting method. It is done by hand whereby cherry pickers handpick the ripe fruits. Selective harvesting is ideal for places with uneven terrain or where machine harvesting is impractical, challenging or not feasible. Depending on the size of the farm, this technique requires more workers, as they also need to go back to pick the ones that were unripe during the previous harvest. It is a time-consuming method, as after picking, workers also need to remove any dirt or debris from the fruits. However, selective harvesting also leads to superior results, and the extra time consumed during harvesting could be offset during processing.
- Strip harvesting: Considered a fast and convenient way to harvest coffee cherries, strip harvesting is done by clearing entire branches of coffee fruits — ripe or unripe. It can be done manually or mechanically, although the latter method is faster. Strip harvesting isn’t labour-intensive and is relatively inexpensive. However, after harvesting, you must be careful to segregate the unripe cherries prior to processing.
- Machine harvesting: Although highly efficient and quick, machine harvesting can only be done when the farm is on flat terrain. The machine itself is quite expensive, although the labour costs are kept to a minimum as you’ll only need one person operating the machine.
Coffee harvesting best practices
When it comes to coffee harvesting, finishing fast isn’t the highest priority. After all, you need properly harvested cherries to yield excellent quality coffee.
So, if you ever get the chance to participate in a coffee harvest, below are things you should be on the lookout for:
- For selective harvesting, pick only ripe, red cherries as accidentally mixing in unripe ones can affect coffee quality.
- Pluck cherries within 10 to 14 days after your last pick so unripe cherries have time to mature.
- Make sure you pick all the ripe cherries during your last harvest session and don’t leave anything for later.
- Do not harvest overripe or under-ripe cherries, as well as infested ones.
- During strip harvesting, place a piece of cloth on the ground as it’s likely for some berries to fall on the soil or dirt.
- While harvesting, keep the cherries away from direct sunlight.
- When using a machine, ensure the harvesting equipment is clean.
- If you happen to drop some coffee cherries on the ground, do not mix them with the others in your basket. To prevent coffee fruits from falling on the ground, carefully pluck cherries one by one.
- After harvesting, transfer the cherries into clean containers to prevent contamination while the fruits are in transit.
Coffee harvesting can be a tiring task, but when done properly, it can yield excellent coffee.