Category • Blog articles

How is coffee harvested?

Alex | November 17, 2022

When we make a dash to get to work and grab a coffee on the way, we don’t really think about where our coffee comes from. However in order to get to your coffee cup, its journey is long. To grow, harvest, process, roast, package and ship, there are many vital steps.

Firstly coffee starts out as a plant that bears a fruit that’s called a coffee cherry. As these coffee cherries ripen, they change from green to yellow to red – when they’re red, they’re ready to be harvested. Like a normal cherry, inside it, there’s a seed. This seed then goes through many processes to transform into coffee.

Arabica vs Robusta

Most coffee is grown in South and Central America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. There are two main coffee varieties which are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica offers a wide range of tastes and aromas. It tends to produce more expensive, higher-quality coffee blends. Robusta is cheaper and is used more in espresso blends and instant coffee. However, both can be delicious, and it just comes down to your personal taste to which you prefer.

How is coffee harvested?

Coffee can be harvested either by hand or by machine. To maximize the coffee harvest process, hand picking tends to be recommended, since any unripened coffee cherries can be left to mature before harvesting later.

When harvesting by machine, a portion of the harvested coffee crop will not be ripe, as each cherry isn’t checked. The type of harvesting will affect the coffee quality, cost of production, environmental impact, social impact, and more.

Strip picking vs selective picking

Hand coffee picking requires workers to pick the coffee, quite literally, by hand so is very labour-intensive. On some farms, the pickers will harvest all the cherries at one time, so often they will just put their hand around the base of a branch and then pull their gripped fingers along it. This removes all the cherries, but they are not checked for ripeness. This is called strip picking and will typically result in commodity-grade coffee.

Selective picking is where only the ripe cherries get picked, and this is the process used for speciality grade coffee. The reason is that this process results in sweeter, more complex flavours in the coffee as the cherries have had longer to develop. This takes a long time, as the pickers will have to do multiple harvests so they can pick the cherries as they ripen.

Mechanised picking

Mechanical pickers are large vehicles that are driven around the farm to harvest the coffee cherries. They have rotating and vibrating rods that knock the cherries loose before they are dropped into a holding bin.

Mechanical pickers are time-efficient, but they are not always an option because of topography. They can only be used where the land is relatively flat for the machine to run.

Mechanised harvesting tends to be associated mainly with commodity coffee.

Each harvesting method has its pros and cons, and it is just one part of the process growers must decide based on budget, overall coffee quality, challenges of the land, and availability of labour.

After harvesting, the coffee cherries will go on to be sorted, processed, roasted, transported, packaged, ground and finally, brewed.

Contact our team

If you’re interested in providing coffee for your office, FreshGround’s range of office coffee machines will ensure you get a perfect brewed cup of coffee every time. Each of our drinks recipes is carefully developed by SCA-trained specialists with in-depth knowledge of the machines and coffees to give a balanced and beautiful flavour.

Get in touch to find out more about our coffee machines, or if you’d just like more information about coffee at work.