Coffee is a global commodity that is grown in more than 70 countries worldwide. Coffee trees typically grow in tropical regions, and the beans are harvested once they have reached maturity.
However, have you ever wondered how coffee is harvested?
Coffee harvesting is a crucial step in the coffee production chain, as it determines the quality and flavor of the coffee beans. Let’s take a closer look at the coffee harvesting process.
Coffee is typically harvested in one of two ways: either by hand or by machine. Hand-picking involves laborers selectively choosing only the ripe cherries, while mechanical harvesting involves stripping the entire plant of its cherries. Ultimately, the quality of the final product is greatly influenced by the harvesting process.
Types of Coffee Beans
There are two main types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica beans are considered to be of higher quality and are grown in high-altitude areas, while Robusta beans are more hardy and can be grown in lower-altitude areas.
Arabica beans have a sweeter, more complex flavor profile, while Robusta beans have a stronger, more bitter taste.
Before we get into the harvesting process, let’s talk about coffee plantations. Coffee trees require specific climate and soil conditions to grow.
They need a warm and humid climate, with temperatures between 60-70°F (15-24°C) and rainfall of 60-100 inches (150-250 cm) per year.
The soil should be well-draining and slightly acidic, with a pH level of 6.0 to 6.5.
Climate and Soil Requirements
Coffee trees grow best in tropical regions that have a combination of high altitudes and mild climates.
These regions include Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The altitude should be between 2,000 to 6,000 feet (610 to 1,830 meters) above sea level.
Planting Coffee Trees
Coffee trees are typically planted in rows and spaced about 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 meters) apart.
The trees take around 3 to 4 years to mature and start producing coffee beans.
They can grow up to 30 feet (9 meters) tall, but they are often pruned to make harvesting easier.
Coffee harvesting is the process of picking coffee cherries from the trees. The timing of the harvest is critical, as the coffee beans must be picked at the right time to ensure optimal flavor and quality.
#1: Selective Picking Method
Selective handpicking is the most labor-intensive and time-consuming coffee harvesting method.
It involves picking only the ripe cherries by hand, leaving the unripe and overripe cherries on the tree. So, it requires workers to go through the plantation several times to pick the ripe cherries
This method ensures that only the highest quality beans are harvested, resulting in a more complex and nuanced flavor profile.
Selective handpicking is commonly used for high-quality Arabica beans.
#2: Strip Picking Method
Strip picking is another method of harvesting coffee, and it involves stripping all the cherries off the tree, regardless of their ripeness.
This method is quicker and more efficient than selective picking, but it results in lower-quality coffee beans, as the unripe cherries are mixed into the batch.
Strip picking is typically used for Robusta beans, which are more tolerant of less precise harvesting methods.
#3: Mechanical Harvesting
Mechanical harvesting is another variation of the strip picking method where it involves machines shaking the coffee trees instead of a hand, causing the cherries to fall off and onto a conveyor belt.
This method is fast and efficient, but it can also result in a lower-quality coffee with a less complex flavor profile.
The machines are not always able to distinguish between ripe and unripe cherries, so both types end up in the batch.
Also, mechanical harvesting is only possible if the coffee farm lies in flat terrain, and plants are accessible by machine.
The cost of the machine can also be a crucial factor. Countries like Bangladesh where coffee cultivation is relatively new prefer handpicking rather than machine harvesting because of low labor costs.
After the coffee cherries have been harvested, they must be processed to remove the outer layers and reveal the beans inside.
There are two main methods of coffee processing: the wet method and the dry method.
Wet coffee processing, also known as washed processing, is a method of coffee processing that involves washing the coffee cherries to remove the outer layers and reveal the beans inside.
This process results in a cleaner and brighter flavor profile, making it a popular choice for high-quality Arabica beans.
The wet coffee processing method starts with collecting only the ripe coffee cherries by hand.
After the cherries have been thoroughly washed, they are then de-pulped by a machine.
Once the de-pulping process is complete, the coffee beans are washed again to remove any residual pulp or mucilage.
The washed coffee beans are then fermented to break down the remaining layers of mucilage, further revealing the flavor of the coffee beans. The beans are then washed again to remove any remaining mucilage and are left to dry.
Drying the washed coffee beans can be done either naturally in the sun or by using mechanical dryers.
Dry coffee processing, also known as natural processing, is a method of coffee processing that involves drying the coffee cherries with the beans inside, rather than removing the outer layers as in the wet processing method.
This process results in a heavier and fruitier flavor profile, making it a popular choice for some types of coffee beans.
The drying process can take up to four weeks, depending on the weather and other environmental factors. During this time, the cherries are regularly turned and raked to ensure even drying.
The outer layers of the cherries dry and shrink around the beans inside, protecting them from damage and infusing them with additional flavors.
The dried cherries are then passed through a hulling machine, which removes the outer layers of the dried cherries, leaving only the coffee beans.
The beans are then sorted and graded by hand. The dry method is typically used for Robusta beans, as they are more resilient and can withstand the long drying process.
Once the beans have been harvested and processed, they are roasted to develop their unique flavor profiles.
Roasting involves heating the beans at high temperatures until they reach a specific level of roasting, ranging from light to dark roast.
Each roast level produces a different flavor profile, with light roasts having a milder, more acidic taste and dark roasts having a stronger, more bitter taste.
Coffee bean preparation is a complex process that involves several steps, from planting to harvesting, processing, and roasting.
The quality and flavor of the coffee beans depend on the harvesting method used and the timing of the harvest.
Whether you prefer a light or dark roast, knowing how coffee is harvested can help you appreciate your favorite cup of coffee even more.
What is the difference between Arabica and Robusta beans?
Arabica beans are considered to be of higher quality and have a sweeter, more complex flavor profile, while Robusta beans have a stronger, more bitter taste.
What is the best climate for coffee trees?
Coffee trees require a warm and humid climate, with temperatures between 60-70°F (15-24°C) and rainfall of 60-100 inches (150-250 cm) per year.
What is the wet method of coffee processing?
The wet method involves washing the cherries to remove the outer layers and reveal the beans inside, and then drying the beans either naturally in the sun or by using mechanical dryers.
What is the dry method of coffee processing?
The dry method involves laying out the cherries in the sun to dry, allowing the outer layers to naturally crack and reveal the beans inside, and then sorting and grading the beans by hand.
What is the purpose of coffee roasting?
Coffee roasting is used to develop the unique flavor profiles of the coffee beans, with each roast level producing a different taste.
How are Starbucks coffee beans harvested?
Starbucks sources its coffee beans from various regions worldwide, with different harvesting methods. However, they prioritize ethical and sustainable sourcing practices, which include ensuring that their coffee farmers are paid fairly and their communities are supported.