Harvesting Methods

There are three main harvesting methods used in the coffee industry.  In many cases, harvesting methods are chosen based on terrain, labor availability and/or the estate owner’s access to capital.

Hand Picking
Though time consuming and costly, the preferred method of harvesting is hand picking.  Because coffee trees will often have blossoms, unripe fruit, and ripe fruit on the trees simultaneously, hand picking is done in rounds, harvesting only those cherries that are ripe during each round.  Hand picking harvesting teams may visit the same tree several times during the harvest season.

Stripping Method
Mechanical harvesting utilizes self-propelled machines equipped with long, flexible, vibrating rods (usually made out of fiberglass or nylon) attached to two large, vertically attached spindles. As the harvester moves along the row of trees, the spindle turns the vibrating rods knocking off the cherries they come in contact with directly and shaking off the rest.

The cherries are collected at the base of the harvester on pans that form a “false floor” beneath the tree. The cherries are then diverted to conveyor belts which move them past fans, depositing the cherries into a catch-bin.  The purpose of the fans is to create a false wind that will blow off any accompanying leaves and twigs.  The bin is emptied at the end of the row, and the cherries are hauled off for processing.

The harvesting teams waits until about three-quarters of the crop is perfectly ripe, then they make their way through the fields spreading sheets out on the ground,  pulling beans from the tree (along with leaves and small twigs) by the handful and tossing them onto sheets. It is not a perfect method of harvesting but it provides efficiencies in cost and time.

Mechanical Harvesting
The newest and certainly the most controversial method of harvesting employ large pieces of mechanical harvesting equipment. Mechanical harvesting is reliant on even row planting of coffee trees, similar to the architecture of grape vineyards.