Gone in the blink of an eye, the coffee harvesting season lasts for 2-3 months and is one of the most crucial phases of the coffee production cycle.
Coffee farmers around the world strive tirelessly to cultivate the crop in the hopes of having a good harvest and avoiding all the calamities which can spell disaster for their yield.
Because of the volumes in which the coffee plant is grown, losing one harvest due to climate change or plant leaf disease can sometimes mean the farmer has no crop to sell for an entire year. They end up losing out on their income and spending even more resources to grow coffee.
Let’s take a look at the different methods used to harvest coffee across the world.
A far more expensive and time-consuming option, selective picking is done by hand.
Coffee pickers navigate the farm and manually harvest the cherries, filling up the baskets they carry as they go. When the basket is full, the cherries are emptied into large bags that are then taken to sort and process the cherries.
This technique involves harvesting only ripe, good-quality cherries. Cherry pickers regularly revisit the coffee trees over the course of several weeks to ensure that all the ripe cherries get picked.
Selective picking is ideal for coffee farms where the land isn’t entirely level, which prevents the effective use of machines for cherry picking.
Much like the namesake, in strip picking, a coffee tree is essentially stripped of all coffee fruits.
Strip picking can be done by hand or even mechanically since the objective is to pick all the coffee fruits from the entire plant.
The problem with this is that in addition to ripe cherries, even unripe cherries get collected. This can of course be dealt with in the post-harvesting phase where the cherries are sorted. But ultimately by picking unripe cherries, there’s lesser quality yield being obtained and more cherries go to waste.
Usually, only robusta coffee is harvested using this method.
One of the benefits of strip coffee picking is the speed at which it can be accomplished.
When the objective is to pick coffee cherries at a rapid speed, machines are often employed to do the job.
Large, established coffee estates commonly use this method for harvesting coffee because they have the resources to acquire such machinery and can also make do with less labour.
Mechanical coffee harvesters have columns of rods which vibrate. This movement results in coffee cherries being collected from the branches.
In different parts of the bean belt, the harvesting months vary, and so does the duration of the coffee harvest.
But as a general rule, coffees are picked between September and March in the Northern Hemisphere. Whereas in the Southern Hemisphere, it occurs between April and August.
The fun fact about coffee harvesting is that while there is only one harvest in a year, in a few countries like Kenya and Columbia there can be two harvest periods in the same year.
Moreover, while selective picking tends to be the most common method, in some countries where rural labour is either not available sufficiently or expensive to hire, machine harvesting is used.
Each method of coffee harvesting has its own advantages and disadvantages.