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Harvesting Coffee

Harvesting Coffee

Coffee harvesting is one of the most important parts of ensuring a delicious cup of coffee, rather than a bitter or sour cup.  When coffee is harvested correctly, you should be able to taste the sweetness and richness of the coffee, without any hints of acerbity or bitterness.  They say coffee is like a banana and its takes 20 coffee beans to make 1 cup of coffee. Who they are I don't know, but I know they say it.  If you tried to make banana bread out of 19 bananas and 1 unripe banana, you'd still ruin the banana bread.  Same is true with coffee. 


The problem is that each coffee bean is only about a gram in weight.  This means it would take 500 coffee beans to make 1 pound of dried coffee.  A really careful hand picker can probably pick between 10-25 beans per minute, which means 1 pound of dried coffee could take anywhere from 30 mintues to 1.5 hours to pick!  If you are paying american wages, that means just on the harvest the coffee, you'd be paying them 7.50 to 20 dollars a pound!  This is why coffee is so expensive when its grown in the US. 

Most coffee producing regions will use a machine to harvest theri coffee.  Farmers will plant their coffee on flat ground and drive what are essentially giant vaccuums down the rows, pulling off all the fruit and leaves off the coffee.  Unfortunately ripe and unripe cherry are both harvested.  However, any coffee farmer knows, once you've pulped the coffee you can no longer tell the difference between a ripe bean, an overripe bean, and an underripe bean.  Which you can short the cherry based on color, in reality, most farmers do not sor ttheir cherry, as the machines are expensive and the throughput is relatively low.  Thus, once its pulled off the trees, the coffee is what it is.  And usually it is relatively unripe. 

Only hand picked coffee, which is not strip picked is truly gourmet coffee.  Maybe 1 in 5 beans in the machine are actually perfectly ripe coffee, while the rest of the coffee just ruins the taste of the cup.  Having more coffee may mean more money for the farmer but it also usually means an inferior cup of coffee for the drinker.  This is one of the reasons why all of Kona Coffee is picked by hand, and why the coffee is such high quality.

Even in Latin America, coffee pickers are usually iterant labor.  In honduras they are only paid 1-2 dollars per 100 pounds of coffee picked.  This means the incentive to strip pickthe coffee becomes much greater as the wages go down.  In Puerto Rico, they began to employ prisoners as coffee pickers because labor is so scarce.  Unless people are willing to pay high prices for their coffee, the quality of coffee will continue to drop as machines are employed in place of people.