Coffee Harvesting and Processing Methods

by Know Your Grinder

Coffee is a drink enjoyed by many people in developed nations throughout North America and Europe.

And, it is often easy to enjoy something so much and never give it a second thought as to where it comes from.  Well, it’s time that ends!

Today let’s take a look at traditional coffee harvesting and processing methods. You might be surprised as to how your coffee is made.

The Coffee Plant

The coffee plant, better known as ‘Coffee Arabica’ is a little shrub that likes to grow in warm climates.

This is the reason why many coffee plantations are found throughout South America, Africa, and Eastern Asia (such as Indonesia).

Coffea Arabica
Coffea Arabica

The coffee plant itself can grow up to three feet wide and six feet tall.

When the plant matures it will begin to flower, and it gives off a sweet jasmine like scent. 

After the flower has been pollinated and the fruit begins to form, it becomes known as the coffee cherry.

The coffee cherry starts green then fades to yellow, and then turns a rich orange, and finally becoming a deep, dark red.

This color change occurs during the hot season, depending on the country it is growing.

It’s at this moment that the coffee is ready for harvest.

How is Coffee Processed?

When the ripe coffee cherries are firm and red, the traditional method to pick them is done by hand.

This still occurs in many regions of the world, however the modern methods use a machine which strips both ripe and unripened coffee cherries from the tree.

The traditional method is the preferred way of picking coffee cherries since there will be a higher yield of coffee from the crop.

Picking Coffee Cherries
Picking Coffee Cherries

However, picture yourself beneath the sweltering heat, picking all the little coffee cherries one by one.

Since most flowering fruits are pollinated at different times of the blossoming season, ripening occurs at different times.

This makes picking coffee cherries by hand the ideal method.

Want to give it a try?

INTERESTING FACT: Harvesting coffee in Brazil will use machinery which strips the coffee bean from the plant when about 75% of the cherries are ripe.

This seems to be the more cost effective method for harvesting coffee cherries rather than hiring laborers to pick them by hand.

Coffee Harvesting Machine

Coffee Harvesting Machine

While more coffee can be collected using the traditional method, it comes at a cost:

  • A large , rural work force is required to pick a coffee cherry crop. Usually, this is done at minimal pay.
  • Rising wages makes harvesting by hand less attractive.
  • More and more youth are moving to urban centres to find work, leaving behind few workers willing to pick coffee plants.

Often, the method of harvesting coffee plants will be determined by the rural workers available in the region.

How is Coffee Processed?

How coffee is processed will have a direct effect on the flavour and quality of the coffee. There are a few different methods that are used to create the range of flavors available today.

Let’s take a look at three coffee processing methods.


The natural methods is the simplest method for processing coffee. However, this is not easy to do.

After the coffee cherries have been harvested, they must be dried. The cherries will be placed on mats to be set out in the sun.

Indonesian Coffee Farmer Harvests Civet Cat Poop Coffee
For the best results, the cherries will be hand selected and separated based on their ripeness. Doing this allows a consistent flavor when the coffee cherries are fully dried.

Indonesian Coffee Farmer Harvests Civet Cat Poop Coffee

The mats used to dry the coffee cherries allow for the circulation of air under and around the cherries. The entire drying process can take anywhere between 23 to 36 days.

What’s happening the the coffee cherries while they dry?

During the drying period, the sugars and flavours from the plump fruit will begin to absorb into the bean. This is how you can control the variations of bodies and refined flavours.

Drying Coffee Beans
Drying Coffee Beans


The traditional full wash process puts the coffee cherry through 5 to 7 days of enzymatic fermentation in water. This allows the pulpy fruit surrounding the bean to soften and separate.

The flavors created using this process enhances acidity and the finer, floral aromatics of the coffee bean.

This traditional coffee processing method has recently had some modernized additions. Friction washing is an added step which removes the sticky pulp which further enhances the flavor.

After this step, the beans may be soaked in a citrus, apricot or apple infused water to alter the flavour and modify the acidity.

Coffee Bean Washing
Coffee Bean Washing

Processing Coffee The Honey Way

The coffee cherry will be pulped (removal of the outer fruit) then spread out to dry without washing. Often, some of the pulp will remain on the bean. This honey process is both demanding and difficult to do.

After the beans have been separated, they are spread thinly on drying beds and must be turned hourly during the 10 to 15 days for the bean to become stable.

Honey Process With Coffee
If the honey process can be achieved properly, the result is a fine coffee with robust body and fruity sweetness.

Honey Process With Coffee

Brazil and other places in Central America have refined the honey process to create a wide range of flavours from white, yellow, red and black coffee cherries.

There flavors are defined by the amount of flesh remaining after pulping and the weather throughout the drying process.

You’ve just learned about some of the traditional and modern methods for harvesting and processing. However, your favorite drink is not yet ready to be crushed to smithereens and sipped in a cup.

The next step in the making of coffee comes roasting.

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