Harvesting the coffee is a very important step in the coffee production process and so is the timing in which it is made.
Without surprise, when coffee beans are harvested once the fruits reach its peak ripeness, then the final product will offer the best taste, if the steps following the harvesting are made so that the quality is preserved.
There are several things to take into account while harvesting the beans and the one of the main challenges is the topography of the terrain and the lands in which the plants are growing. As great coffees require high altitudes, that leads to many coffee farms being located in mountains and hills, making the harvesting very difficult and sometimes even dangerous.
So, how is the harvesting done? We will show here the three ways that are commonly used to process it and their differences.
- Machine Harvesting: Mainly used in Brazil, where the flat lands located in high altitudes are proliferating with coffee trees, the machines are used to harvest the cherries by going through the rows of trees. Essentially, the machines shake the trees and make the cherries go loose.
The main issue with this method is that the machine does not differentiate between the fruits and picks all the cherries, whether they are ripe or not, making it essential to separate the ripe cherries from the unripe ones.
Its advantage is the low coast of harvesting with this method, but at the expense of the quality of the harvesting as a whole.
- Strip Picking: As mentioned previously, some areas are located in mountains and hills, making it hard -or even impossible- for machines to work there. That’s when strip picking comes in handy, as one of the faster methods that consists in taking with a single movement all the cherries on the branch. This is a quick way to harvest, but like the machines, it does not differentiate between ripe and unripe cherries and the final result is a mixed bag that needs to be sorted later.
- Hand-Picking: Since the beginning, this method remains the most effective one in order to obtain high quality coffee. When hand-picking, pickers select only the cherries that are ready for harvest and leave the unripe ones for later.
One of the issues of this method is that pickers are paid by the weight of the bags, sometimes leading some of them to also harvest unripe cherries.
Once the harvesting is done, there is always a need for sorting the cherries, as explained earlier. This can be done in different ways. Obviously the cheapest way of doing so is by sorting the cherries by hand, otherwise a flotation tank can be used. The latter consists in pouring the cherries in a large tank of water, where the ripe cherries will go at the bottom of it while the remaining ones will be floating, then processed separately.