Harvesting coffee

How long does it take to pick coffee?

Itcan take 4-7 years forthe coffee plantto reach maturity. The fruits, known as cherries, are green at first and turn red (or yellow, or orange) when they are ready to be harvested.

Beneath the red skin, called the exocarp, is the flesh, called themesocarp, the outer layer and the parchment-like covering of the grain, called theendocarp. Inside these two layers, there are usually two oval-shaped grains with the flat side facing each other. The harvesting time of coffee cherries varies according to the area and altitude. There is usually one harvest per year, which lasts 2-3 months.

Countries that are north of the equator have a coffee harvest from September to March. South of the equator, the harvest is from April to August. In countries where rainy and dry seasons are not frequent there are two harvests per year.

How is coffee harvested?

Coffee harvesting is an important intermediate step between the maturation of the coffee on the coffee plant and the actual processing of the coffee.

Manual coffee harvesting

Hand harvesting is the best possible way to harvest coffee. It is much more time-consuming than other harvesting methods. Itis theoldest and highest quality collection. In order to know the ripeness of the coffee fruit, pickers pick each fruit individually. Immature and damaged fruits are discarded immediately.

Hand picking thus guarantees the best quality coffee. Hand picking does not damage the leaves and branches of the coffee tree. The hand-picked coffees are selective.

Machine harvesting

Machine harvesting is limited by the altitude and machine availability of the plantation. As altitude increases, the use of this technique becomes more difficult as the coffee trees tend to be planted under tall trees. This method is mostly carried out in coffee plantations at lower altitudes where the soil is flat. Machine harvesting is mainly used for Robusta.

The coffee harvesting machine looks a bit like a combine harvester. It isvery unkind to the coffee plants and the fruit. It unnecessarily picks green, unripe berries that could still ripen. The machine harvesting method is guaranteed to be faster and cheaper, but it is also very drastic.

Machine harvesting on a coffee plantation. Image source: Canva

Combing coffee trees or Stripping

Stripping or also pulling, is another option for manual harvesting. The pickers take the entire branch of the coffee plant. They start from the trunk of the bush or tree and gather all the fruits that are on the branch up to the edge of the branch. They then put them in the prepared collection baskets.

This method is of course faster than hand-picking, but it is not as gentle on the coffee plants. Both unripe and damaged fruit are unnecessarily placed in the collection baskets in this way.

Sorting coffee cherries

In the next stage of this harvest, the coffee cherries have to be sorted and picked, which takes more time. It is necessary toselect cherries that are unripe or overripe. This is done by careful sorting by hand or with water. In a large water tank, the unripe cherries remain floating on the surface, while the ripe ones sink to the bottom. They will then naturally separate themselves and the ripe fruit will then be processed.

Focus on buying quality coffee!

Coffee is often awarded with various certificates, which you can see right on the packaging. However, no certification does not necessarily mean poor quality coffee. The best thing you can do is to ask the roaster or barista responsible for selling or producing the beans about the quality of the coffee.

Trade methods and coffee certifications:

  • UTZ is a global certification program that sets precise standards for the agricultural production and delivery of coffee products.
  • USDA Organic certification guarantees that the coffee was grown in accordance with the National Organic Program.
  • Bird Friendly certification oversees the growing of coffee trees in the shade of the forest.
  • TheRainforest Alliance is concerned with the environmental aspects of growing coffee trees.
  • Fair trade certification ensures fair trade.
  • Direct trade specifies direct trade between farmer and roaster.

Did you know that dry mills are an important point for quality coffee processing?

Dry mills or also Dry mill are the last stage before bagging.They are used to hull and sort the dried beans in parchment. This gives farmers the opportunity to control the processing of coffee to the final stage for export.

What is the main role of the dry mill?

Smaller beans tend to roast faster than larger beans. So if a batch of coffee contains beans that are not the same size and shape, they are roasted differently. Otherwise, if the beans are the same size and shape, they are roasted uniformly and evenly. They ensure a consistent level of aroma and acidity throughout the batch. The dry mill is therefore a key step in meeting the uniformity requirements.

First stage: peeling and de-stoning

During this stage, the coffee beans are separated from the husks and pulp. This is particularly useful for Robusta coffee beans, where the silver skin is known to contribute to bitterness.

Second stage: Catador

This is basically an air fan that blows any dirt, skins or parchment and damaged beans off the coffee .

Phase Three: Sizing

A mesh with several gap sizes that are carefully stacked together is used to dry the coffee. Thecoffee beans circulate from top to bottom and the nets catch and separate it according to size. The mesh holes are elongated or round. Oblong holes allow regular coffee beans to pass through, while round beans would not pass through the holes.

Colour grading

Involves optical machines that scan each individual bean separately. Beans that do not match a predefined colour profile are discarded by a strong jet of compressed air.

Dry mills can contribute to or hinder the success of coffee growers. The only successful grower can be one who prepares a good crop for roasting in a dry mill. The future of the entire coffee industry depends on sustainability