The careful harvest of coffee beans has a direct correlation with the quality of your cup of coffee.
It won’t be a surprise to hear that as a rule, coffee beans that have been harvested at peak ripeness, will generally taste the best. At each subsequent stage post-harvest, great care is taken to preserve quality, rather than improve upon it.
The biggest challenge to most coffee farmers is the landscape on which the coffee trees grow. With the higher altitudes and hilly terrain, navigating between trees can be a challenge (although not the case everywhere).
In countries with areas of flatter land and high altitudes such as Brazil, it’s possible to operate coffee-harvesting machinery. The machines will vibrate the branches until the fruit comes loose and falls to nets laid out below. There are a few downsides to harvesting using this method though, such as shaking loose fruit that isn’t yet ripe. This means they need to be hand-sorted post-harvest, at which point the excess twigs and leaves that fall during the process need to be picked out and discarded too. The cost of this method is generally cheaper, but quality can be sacrificed too as a result.
A large amount of coffee harvesting is still done by hand to preserve quality, but also if it’s not possible to use machinery due to challenging landscapes. One of the faster manual methods is to strip the fruit from a branch in a single swift action. Quick, but can potentially mean that some unripened fruit will end up being harvested. Although no expensive equipment is required, there is a need to pay for labour to sort the fruit later.
The highest-quality coffee producers will hand-pick their coffee beans, selecting only the fruit at peak ripeness. The unripened fruit remains on the tree meaning it can be picked at a later date, which results in less waste, maximising the yield. It’s much more labour intensive and it can be difficult to incentivise pickers to only harvest ripened fruit if they’re paid by the weight they’ve picked.