Like most of the fruits and vegetables we consume, coffee has a specific season when it is ready for harvest. This season varies depending on the location of the harvested coffees and can last for several months. Learn more about the process coffee goes through when it is harvested.
Flowering and Fertilization
Like other fruiting trees, coffee must first undergo a season of flowering and fertilization before it can bear fruit to harvest. It is truly beautiful to see a coffee orchard in bloom: the flowers are a snowy white, and they blanket the entire plantation. Bees and butterflies flutter around, pollinating the jasmine-scented flowers so that they can grow the cherished coffee cherry.
The flowering season can last for a few months, but individual flowers last a very short time. Once an individual flower is pollinated, it quickly begins to drop its petals and starts to fruit. This is the only quick part of the cherry growth process, though, depending on the climate, it can take six to nine months for the coffee cherry to actually ripen. Cherries also ripen with respect to altitude, with lower altitude berries ripening earlier than higher altitude ones.
Because it can take several weeks for coffee cherries to form, they do not all ripen at the same time, even when they are on the same elevation. This forces harvesters to hand pick the individual beans to ensure that the coffee is harvested at the absolute peak of its ripeness. The harvest can take several weeks to complete when a plantation picks its beans by hand, which has led some coffee producers to take a less fine-tuned approach and harvest using machines. However, machine harvested coffees are considered to be inferior to hand picked ones. All truly quality coffee is hand picked.
Coffee trees typically only flower once a year, allowing for a single annual harvest. However, in some countries, namely Colombia and Kenya, trees will flower twice each year. In these countries, there are two coffee harvests. The first harvest is considered the principal harvest, and it is followed by the secondary or “fly” harvest.
Because coffee is grown across the globe in a wide variety of climates, there is usually an area where coffee is being harvested, no matter what time of the year it is. Harvesters begin their work at the lowest altitudes and move to higher ones as the months pass to keep up with the pace of ripening.