Thursday, December 10, 2015

Harvesting Coffee

It's time! Cherries are starting to turn red. Ah, this is such a satisfying time. Harvesting is my reward for all the other work that went into the crop. 

I hand pick my coffee. Hand picking is the way that most farms harvest their coffee crops around here. I pick the individual dark red cherries, one by one. If an entire cluster is ready, then I might be able to get away with striping that cluster off the branch in one quick scoop, but usually it's just one or two cherries at a time. The cherries don't ripen at the same time. They don't easily fall off the branch, thus requiring a conscious effort to pluck or twist them off. Yes, coffee picking takes a tic of time. Thankfully I can do it standing up most of the time rather than bending over the entire way down a row, as with bush beans. 

(Above, coffee cherries on the tree ready for picking.) 

My trees stand 6 to 7 feet tall. And the coffee is produced on branches just about all the way up. So in order to reach the top branches, I need to bend the trees down a bit. The trucks are flexible enough to do that without snapping them off most of the time. I use a hook on the end of a rope, that is hooked to a makeshift pelvic harness. Flick the hook around the truck, step back to bend the trunk towards me, then use my free hands to pluck cherries. I drop the cherries Into a basket that hangs in front of my chest, again freeing my hands.

(Above, fresh coffee cherries.) 

Once I've harvested the cherries, I need to separate the beans from the skins/pulp. There is machinery to process large volumes of cherry, but my small amount can be hand done. I don't even get enough to justify the purchase of a modified cherry pitter. I simply squeeze the cherry between thumb and fingers until the beans pop out. A few require me to use my thumb nail to score the skin, but not too many to be annoying enough to purchase a cherry pitter. 

(Above left, the cherry husks. Right, the fresh coffee beans. In the smaller white bowl are the damaged beans that contain coffee borers. I will destroy those by dropping into boiling water.) 

Once the beans are collected, I rinse them in water a few times to remove bits of pulp. And I'll also discard any beans that float. When I'm satisfied, the beans are then put into a mason jar and covered with water. They are then allowed to sit overnight so that slime covering the beans will ferment a little, thus slip off easier. In the morning I'll repeatedly vigorously shake and rinse the beans until the water runs clear. I'll add a half a cup of coral sand to the jar so that it will act as an abrasive when I shake it, with the sand quickly scrubbing the beans clean. When I rinse the beans in a colinder, the sand washes right through the holes, leaving just clean coffee beans behind. 

Now it's time to spread the washed beans out onto a flat tray to dry someplace warm and airy. I don't want them to mold. The first 24 hours I usually put the trays onto the dashboard of my truck, parked in the sun with the windows mostly up. If there is no sun or if I'm firing up the woodstove in the house, I'll put the trays above the woodstove where the rising heat will quickly dry the beans. After that I'll usually move the trays to some place more convenient where it's airy and warm. It takes about a week for the beans to dry down adequately. Once dried, the beans can be stored for a long period of time until I wish to roast them. Since I have burlap bags, I store my beans in such a bag down in my barn, where it stays reasonably dry. 

Coffee beans can be processed further and roasted at anytime once they are dried. I normally allow my beans to be stored for a year or more before roasting because it smooths out the taste. For the holiday season I keep special beans that have been aged two years. They make a really nice roast for special Christmas gifts. But beans do not need aging. They can simply be roasted once dried. 

Prior to roasting, the skin surrounding the actual bean (the skin is called the parchment) needs to be removed. Commercially there are machines to do that. But for home processing, rubbing the beans on a piece of hardware cloth does the trick. The parchment pieces mostly fall through the hardware cloth, leaving fairly clean beans behind. 

Now the beans are ready for roasting. At this stage, it is called green coffee. 


  1. Wow! Coffee takes so much effort! I've roasted green beans before (with varying success) but I've got a new appreciation for the work that goes in before the roasting.

  2. Very good post. We've been working on harvesting and processing the coffee on our farm for the first time. I like the hardware cloth idea. Also, have you posted a picture of the hook you use to pull down the trees anywhere on your site? Would love to see that. The trees here haven't been pruned in a while (we don't own the farm - we rent) so I had to play Tarzan to pull them down into picking range. All the best.