Our coffee sourcing team has spent untold hours driving along dangerous rocky roads in developing nations, only to hike up a steep mountain-side, looking for great growing conditions for Specialty Coffee. Once we find a region where great coffee is possible, we like to make sure it gets to us in the best condition possible. Any single mistake in the harvesting or processing can ruin a year’s worth of what should have been an exceptional coffee.
So, we start at the beginning with the importance of proper Coffee cherry selection. Knowing when to harvest is key to the quality coffee you experience in your morning cup of joe. In fact, it’s one of the defining moments that determines quality in the cup.
We spend a lot of time educating pickers, and coffee producers, on which cherry is ripe enough to harvest. Sometimes colors can be deceiving.
Yellow varieties are the most difficult. As you can see in the photo above, the ripening process is very subtle. If you pick too early in the process (cherries on the left), you end up with an unpleasant astringency in the cup. If you pick the cherry too late in the ripening stage (last 4 cherries on the right), you end up with a sour, sometimes vinegary cup. Selecting Red Cherry is easier, but just as often is not accomplished unless pickers are well trained. We recently asked the readers of Barista Magazine, which cherries would you choose? In the case of the Yellow Caturra, the 5th, 6th and 7th cherries from the right would be the best. In the photo below, the deep dark red cherries are the best, the 2nd pile from the left.
Photos like these help pickers make better decisions in the harvesting process. And honestly, when fewer “green” cherries are sorted out of their daily harvest, the picker makes more money when selecting the proper cherry color by bringing in more weight. It’s a win/win for everyone.