Introduction to Coffee Harvesting

Sipping on a warm cup of coffee is a favorite way for many people around the world to start their days. Did you know there are a small handful of ways to get that tiny seed to reach its full potential of a deliciously brewed blend?

A coffee bean is actually a seed, so it is planted into the ground and grows into a tree when watered and shaded from bright sunlight. After about 3-4 years, a new tree will bear its fruit, often referred to as a “cherry” by the farmers and pickers, due to the deep red color it takes on when ripe and ready for harvest. With the most labor intensive method of coffee harvesting, pickers set out to fill baskets by hand with as many cherries as possible. This process, known as selective harvesting, includes numerous steps, but the cherries harvested from this process have the best chance of becoming a high quality, profitable product in the end.

After pickers hand pick all of the cherries, they dump them into larger collection bags where the harvest is sorted through for debris and overripe cherries, and then processed using the dry or wet method. After processing, the harvest can be weighed. Because each cherry is picked by hand, a large employee force is necessary. Oftentimes, this means working for minimal pay ultimately causing selective harvesting farms to suffer.

A quicker, less intensive method also exists. Strip harvesting can be done in three different ways, but it does not ensure that the ripest cherries are being used in the final coffee production. Manual stripping involves pickers using their hands to pull on the branch of the tree and knock the fruits to the ground, while mechanical stripping allows pickers to use a metal tool, called derricadeiras, to knock the coffee cherries off of the branch. Lastly, the use of a mechanical harvester machine uses mallets that rotate and vibrate to get the cherries from the trees to the ground.

Although strip harvesting is much quicker and requires less labor, it does not always ensure a ripe production, leading to a lower quality coffee product. So next time you’re slowly sipping on your morning coffee, think about all of the hard work that went into getting that tiny seed into your cup.