How coffee is harvested can have a huge effect on its overall quality.
There are two main ways that farmers harvest their coffee fruit. Hand picked coffee and mass picked coffee. We are going to explore both of these methods of harvesting coffee so get comfy, grab a coffee and let’s dive in.
Hand Picked Coffee
As mentioned, during harvesting there are two different ways workers can pick the cherries from the tree.
Farms that produce commodity-grade coffee, will use a method known as strip picking. This is where a worker will put their hand at the base of a branch and pull their hand along. This will completely strip the branch of its cherries, which makes this method very time efficient. However, by doing this, unripe and over-ripe cherries get mixed in with ripe cherries.
When the fruit is sent to be sorted, some countries will use a flotation tank which allows the ripest fruit to sink to the bottom and the unripe fruit stays on the top.
In some less developed countries, the fruit has to be sorted by hand. This often means that unripe or over-ripe fruit stays mixed in with the ripe fruit.
On other farms, only the ripest cherries are picked by hand. Workers will make their way around each tree and individually pick out the ripe fruit. This method of picking fruit is more labour intensive, which is why it is only really used for speciality coffees. Also, by using the hand picked coffee method, the natural sugars within the coffee will have had longer to develop, which will create more complex flavours in comparison to under-ripe cherries.
Both of these methods are common in most coffee growing countries around the world.
Mass/Mechanised Picked Coffee
Farms that mass pick their coffee will most likely use one of two types of machinery.
A Derricadeira is a small handheld device. It has a long stick on one end with two parts on the other end which vibrate. They look like too large vibrating hands. The workers will bring the vibrating “hands” up to the coffee tree’s branches and shake them, which allows the cherries to fall off. A plastic sheet is put down underneath the tree to catch the fallen fruit.
Generally, this machine is used in countries which have quite hilly terrains.
These machines are much bigger and are driven around the farm. Farms that use these machines can harvest more coffee at the same time, compared to the other methods mentioned. Stripping machines have large rotating and vibrating roads which knock the cherries loose from their branches. This machine has a system of pipes inside which catch the harvested fruit and allow it to be transferred to a holding bin.
Additionally, using stripping machines is very time efficient. The terrain of the farm needs to be flat to be able to use this machine too. Also, as this machine strips the whole tree, unripe fruit is mixed with ripe fruit. This is why stripping machines are usually used to harvest commodity-grade coffee.
So Mass Picked or Hand Picked Coffee?
Well, this depends on a number of things. For example, a stripping machine isn’t going to be suitable for a hilly terrain in El Salvador, whereas it may be more suited to the terrain in Brazil, which is flatter.
Farmers also need to think about the sort of coffee they are looking to produce. If they’re prepared to put in more work (not just with the picking, but with everything else as well) and wanted to produce a quality product, using hand picking methods is going to better.
Alternatively, they may choose quantity over quality, and therefore, a stripping method will be more suited.
Our Hand Roasted Speciality Coffees come from small farms and estates from around the world and are all hand-picked to ensure only the ripest fruit is picked.
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