Because of the continuous blossoming of Coffea shrubs, the plants may carry fully ripe red cherries, overripe cherries, and green fruits simultaneously. Handpicking or “selective picking” is thus considered by many to be the best method of coffee harvesting. The green fruit is then allowed to stay on the tree for a later harvest and the overripe berries can be left to fall to the ground. This is less cost effective for many growers as it requires multiple harvests and manual labor.

A more commonly used method for harvesting coffee is known as “stripping.” The branches are stripped of the coffee cherries, either by hand or machine. Both ripe and unripe fruit would be included in this process. The berries are stripped off and often left to fall onto a sheet where they might be shaken to remove trigs, leaves, and debris. For coffee plants that mature uniformly, as in parts of Brazil, where the rainfall patterns are predictable, it is most cost effective to use this process, even with some overripe or unripe cherries included.

A third method of harvesting is known as mechanical harvesting. There are various types of mechanical systems used in this type and they all work to vibrate the coffee tree branches, causing the fruit to fall from the trees. As with the stripping method, the green, ripe, and overripe cherries are removed and are separated later. This works best in places where the coffee is grown in large fields on flat or gently rolling landscapes.
When the berries are picked (by stripping or mechanical harvesting methods) at all stages of maturity, and kept together, these are used for producing lower-quality coffees for mass consumption. The flavor of the under-ripened berries is more bitter and astringent. The red berries, at full ripeness, have more aromatic oils, less organic acids, and are much more fragrant, flavorful, smooth, and mellow. Because of these differences in flavor at different times of the growth cycle, harvesting is a very important stage in coffee production: The method chosen, and the time it is applied, will have a large influence on the quality of the coffee once it is in the cup.

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