Like many of the products we consume and see on the supermarket shelves, we often don’t spare a second thought about how they got there. Sometimes, this is because it’s self explanatory but, with coffee, there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
The coffee bean, as we know it, encounters a rigorous and meticulous journey before it becomes that rich brown liquid in a cup!
Methods for harvesting coffee
Depending on where the coffee cherries are grown, the harvesting methods may vary. The two main methods for harvesting coffee are selective harvesting and strip harvesting.
Selective harvesting is the most common method across most regions. This method is where the cherries have to be hand-picked, due the difficult terrain and infrastructure at the coffee plantations. However, the benefit of this is that coffee trees can be planted on steep slopes prime for growth, resulting in a premium product and a more efficient use of farmland.
A large workforce is needed to carry out selective harvesting, as it’s a meticulous process in which the red, ripe berries are plucked and the green, unripe berries are left until the process is ready to be repeated again.
Pickers spend the entire day filling their baskets (picking up to a hefty 90 Kg in one shift! ). However, not all of that is always the precious coffee cherry; after emptying them into a larger container, any additional debris is removed. Although this method is more time consuming, it makes for a higher quality final product and faster processing period, as the coffee cherries are of an equal ripeness and do not need to be separated.
Strip harvesting sees more modern methods of picking coffee. Specialist machinery ‘strips’ all of the coffee cherries from the tree, in one fell swoop. The terrain must be flat to accommodate this sort of machinery, in order for it to be effective.
An obvious advantage is speed, however, it means that the coffee cherries are stripped at differing levels of maturity and require sorting afterwards.
One technique for mechanical stripping is through the use of derricadeiras. Workers use this hand-held industrial tool to power strip the coffee to a canvas on the floor. All of the coffee is then accumulated and sent for processing.
On a larger scale, mechanical harvesters are used to collate coffee and have done for around 50 years. Vibrating and rotating mallets knock the coffee cherries off the trees, to gather them at top speed. The key benefit of this type of machinery is that its power can be adjusted to concentrate its efforts on ripe or unripened yields, saving time when processing the coffee into batches. Although, this is not always fully consistent and can weaken the quality of the final coffee product.
In order to achieve a more consistent result, coffee producers invest in other post-harvest technologies such as pulpers and optical sorters.
Efficient Coffee Harvesting
There are both benefits and drawbacks to the varying methods of harvesting coffee.
Farmers and their coffee communities must decide on which method best suits their farm, in order to maximise the quality of their product. Historically, selective harvesting has been the preferred method but with prominent coffee producing nations like Brazil they are opting for more mechanical methods, probably based on labour cost, topography and the desired coffee demands.
At Lincoln & York, we strive to support our coffee origins and work closely together to produce a quality product in the most efficient way.