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How Coffee Beans Are Harvested?

How Coffee Beans Are Harvested?

How Coffee Beans Are Harvested the Essential Processes and Techniques

Coffee, the beloved drink that energizes our mornings and comforts our afternoons, starts its journey in distant tropical regions. As coffee enthusiasts, it's fascinating to know how these precious beans make their way from plant to cup. Coffee beans, encased in cherry like fruits, are harvested either by hand or machine, and this process directly influences their quality and flavor.

Key Takeaways

  • Coffee beans are harvested from cherry like fruits when the coffee plant matures.
  • The method of harvesting affects the quality and flavor of the coffee.
  • Proper processing and roasting are crucial for delivering a rich coffee experience.

The coffee plant, thriving in carefully cultivated conditions, reaches maturity around four years old. At this point, it produces cherries that hold the sought after beans. Various methods such as strip harvesting are employed to collect these cherries efficiently. The choice of technique impacts the delicate balance of flavors we savor in our daily brew.

After harvesting, the cherries undergo processing to extract the beans, which are then roasted to perfection. Each step, from picking to brewing, requires precision and care. This ensures that every cup of coffee delivers the rich and distinctive taste we cherish.

The Coffee Plant and Its Growth Cycle

The growth cycle of the coffee plant is fascinating, involving various stages from flowering to harvest. Understanding the conditions and varieties is crucial for producing high quality beans.

Varieties of Coffee Plants

There are two main species of coffee plants: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora (commonly known as Robusta). Arabica is known for its delicate flavor and lower caffeine content. It is often considered superior in taste. Robusta, on the other hand, is more resilient to pests and diseases and has a stronger, more bitter flavor with higher caffeine levels.

Arabica plants thrive in higher altitudes, usually between 2,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level. They prefer cooler temperatures ranging from 60°F to 70°F.

Robusta plants are hardier and can grow at lower altitudes, up to 2,000 feet. They withstand higher temperatures, often surviving in conditions between 75°F to 85°F.

Conditions for Cultivation

Optimal coffee cultivation requires specific conditions:

  • Climate: Both Arabica and Robusta need a tropical climate, with minimum risks of frost. Consistent rainfall, ranging from 60 to 100 inches annually, is ideal.

  • Altitude: Altitude impacts the flavor profile. Higher altitudes generally produce beans with richer flavors due to slower growth rates and cooler temperatures.

  • Temperature: Arabica thrives in cooler environments with temperatures between 60°F and 70°F. Too much heat can stress the plants. Robusta, being more adaptable, prefers warmer climates, around 75°F to 85°F.

Proper balance in sunlight and shade is also crucial. Excessive sunlight can damage the plants, while too much shade can hinder their growth. Soil quality, rich in organic matter and well drained, further ensures healthy development.

Harvesting Techniques

When it comes to harvesting coffee beans, the approach matters a lot. Different techniques can affect the quality, efficiency, and labor needed. Here, we'll look at three key methods: Selective Picking, Strip Picking, and Mechanical Harvesting.

Selective Picking

Selective picking is a labor intensive method where only the ripe cherries are harvested by hand. This technique requires skilled workers who can discern the best cherries. It ensures that only high quality beans make it to the next stage.


  • High quality beans
  • Careful selection


  • Requires more labor
  • Time consuming

This method is often used for premium coffees where quality is more important than quantity. The care taken during selective picking translates to a better final product.

Strip Picking

Strip picking involves removing all the cherries from a branch in one go. This method can be done manually or with machinery. While it's more efficient, it doesn't differentiate between ripe and unripe cherries.


  • Faster than selective picking
  • Can be mechanized


  • Mix of ripe and unripe cherries
  • Lower overall quality

Despite its downsides, strip picking is useful in larger plantations where speed is crucial. The harvested mix can be sorted later, although this adds extra steps to the process.

Mechanical Harvesting

Mechanical harvesting uses machines to strip the cherries from the trees. This method is the fastest and most efficient, suitable for large scale operations. Machines shake the trees or strip the cherries off, reducing the need for manual labor.


  • Highly efficient
  • Ideal for large farms


  • High initial investment
  • Can damage trees

This technique allows for quicker harvesting, making it an attractive option for commercial coffee producers. While the initial cost of machinery is high, the speed and reduced labor costs can make it a worthwhile investment in the long run.

Processing the Coffee Cherries

Processing coffee cherries transforms them into the coffee beans we enjoy. The steps include removing the cherry's outer layers and drying or fermenting the beans.

Dry Process

In the dry process, also known as natural processing, we lay coffee cherries out in the sun to dry. This method is traditional and doesn't require much water.

First, we spread the cherries on large patios or raised beds. The cherries need to be turned often to ensure even drying. This process can take up to four weeks depending on the weather.

Once dried, we hull the cherries to remove the outer layers, revealing the coffee beans inside. This method results in beans with a fruity, rich flavor, often preferred in areas with limited water resources.

Wet Process

The wet process, or washed processing method, starts by removing the pulp from the coffee cherries. We use a pulping machine to strip away the skin and pulp. This leaves us with beans covered in a sticky mucilage.

Next, we ferment the beans in water for 12 to 48 hours. Fermentation breaks down the mucilage, making it easier to wash off. We then rinse the beans thoroughly to remove any residue.

Finally, we dry the beans, either in the sun or using mechanical dryers. This process produces clean tasting coffee with bright acidity, often seen in high quality specialty coffees.

Honey and Natural Processes

Honey processing is a hybrid method that combines elements of both dry and wet processes. We remove the pulp but leave some of the mucilage on the beans.

First, we spread the beans on drying beds, similar to the dry process. The level of mucilage left on the beans varies, creating different types of honey processed coffee: white, yellow, red, and black, depending on how much mucilage is left.

This method requires careful monitoring to prevent the beans from over fermenting. Honey and natural processes can develop unique flavors and body in the coffee, offering a balance between the fruity notes of natural processing and the clean taste of wet processing.

Sorting, Grading, and Storage

After the coffee cherries are harvested, the beans need to be sorted and graded. This step ensures that only the best beans make it to the next stage of processing.

Sorting involves removing any defective beans or foreign materials. Automated machines or manual labor can be used for this task. The beans pass through screens to separate them by size.

Grading assesses the beans based on several factors such as size, shape, weight, and color. Higher grade beans often have fewer defects and better flavor profiles. These beans are categorized into different grades, which can affect their price and marketability.

Grade Description
Grade 1 Specialty Coffee, no defects
Grade 2 Premium Coffee, minor defects
Grade 3 Exchange Coffee, few defects

Once sorted and graded, the beans need to be stored properly to maintain their quality and flavor.

Storage conditions are crucial. Beans should be kept in a cool, dry place to prevent mold and spoilage. Special storage facilities like climate controlled warehouses help in preserving the beans' quality over time.

We often use hermetic bags or sealed containers to protect the beans from moisture and pests. Proper storage helps maintain the flavor profile of the coffee, ensuring that it remains fresh until it is ready to be roasted and ground. The right storage practices contribute significantly to the final taste of the coffee when brewed.

The Impact of Harvesting on Coffee Quality

The way coffee beans are harvested plays a significant role in their final quality.

Handpicking is widely regarded as the best method for producing high quality coffee. This method involves selecting only ripe cherries, which ensures that the flavors and aromas are preserved. Handpicked beans often have better flavor, aroma, acidity, and sweetness.

In contrast, machine harvesting can be less selective. Machines can pick both ripe and unripe cherries, which can negatively affect the taste. Here's a quick comparison:

Method Quality of Coffee Notes
Handpicking Higher Quality Coffee More selective, better flavor and aroma
Machine Harvesting Lower Quality Coffee Less selective, mixed quality

Post harvest activities also contribute significantly. According to studies, about 60% of the coffee's quality is determined by these processes. Pulping, drying, and sorting are key steps that can enhance or degrade the beans' quality.

For those seeking specialty coffee, handpicking and careful post harvest management are essential. These steps ensure that the beans maintain their desirable qualities, leading to a better cup of coffee.

Global Coffee Harvesting Practices

Coffee is grown and harvested differently across the globe due to varying climates, terrains, and farming practices. We will explore how coffee is harvested in Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, each known for its unique methods and challenges.

Harvesting in Brazil

In Brazil, the world's largest coffee producer, both handpicking and machine harvesting methods are used. Vast coffee fields make machine harvesting common. Vibrating machines or mechanical harvesters shake the coffee trees, causing ripe cherries to fall.

Handpicking is still practiced in smaller farms for higher quality coffee. This method ensures only ripe cherries are picked. The Brazilian harvest season runs from May to September, and the timing is crucial to meet global demand.

Harvesting in Colombia

Colombia, known for its Arabica coffee, predominantly relies on handpicking. The mountainous terrain makes machine harvesting difficult. Workers known as "cosecheros" walk through the fields, selecting only the ripe cherries.

The harvest occurs twice a year due to the bimodal rainfall pattern. The main harvest, or "mitaca," happens between April and June. The careful handpicking method helps maintain the high quality of Colombian coffee, which is cherished worldwide.

Harvesting in Ethiopia

Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, uses traditional handpicking methods. Coffee is often grown in family owned farms or wild forests. Farmers pick ripe cherries by hand, ensuring that the best ones are selected.

Harvesting happens from October to January. Ethiopian coffee is known for its unique flavors, partly due to these meticulous harvesting practices. The methods have remained consistent for generations, focusing on quality over quantity.

Harvesting in Kenya

In Kenya, coffee is mostly handpicked to ensure the highest quality. The coffee growing regions are located at high altitudes, which helps produce beans with rich flavors. Similar to Ethiopia, Kenyan farmers pick only the ripe cherries by hand.

The Kenyan coffee harvest spans from November to December and again from June to August. The selective handpicking method ensures that the beans are flavorful and aromatic, contributing to Kenya's reputation for premium coffee.

By understanding these regional practices, we gain insight into the diverse methods used to bring our coffee from farm to cup.

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