Picking Specialty Coffee | Part 2 (field day)
At this point, I am very excited, not only because it has always been
a dream of mine to be part of a coffee harvest, but also because a lot of things had to happen before I could finally make it to this experience. Read more about it in my Coffeetrip Colombia page, or just stay tuned in our "NO-Filter Coffee Newsletter" until we get to this part together. But now it's ...
... TIME TO PICK COFFEE!
If you have read Picking Specialty Coffee Part 1, you know very well what coffee harvest is about, at least theoretically.
But how does it practically work on a small family farm? Here we go! A day picking coffee at Juan Pablo's farm in Génova, Nariño, Colombia.
I’ve been woken up at sunrise, grabbed my rain boots and the equipment I had put together the night before, and headed straight out to the coffee fields together with Juan Pablo.
You can smell the morning dew and earth, you can hear insects cheeping and the first birds twittering, it is muddy, because it has rained the night before.
THE COFFEE FIELD
The field where the coffee grows and all the harvest is taking place is located at just under 1900 meters above sea level. The one we are working at this day is directly in front of the finca and about 2 hectares big. You can imagine this farm like a huge garden. Around the coffee trees, there are many other species of trees growing. They serve functionally as protection from weather and sun, provide nutrients and in addition they are spending fruits for the entire family.
On the first look It's hard to see, but the coffee trees are planted in equally spaced rows. On the one hand, it ensures that the nutrients needed in the soil are sufficient for each individual tree to grow undisturbed and healthy, and on the other it makes harvesting just easier because it's just easier access to get to the cherries.
Juan Pablo explains that specialty coffee harvest does not run in a single day. Because of the different degrees of ripeness of the cherries, almost every tree is harvested in multiple passes over weeks.
... after a while walking through the field, we got to the corner where the harvest will take place for today.
When we arrived, a couple of coffee pickers were already working. Most of the pickers are neighbors and just helping out. I learned that it's a giving and taking kind of compromise. In this case, they help Juan Pablo with the harvest and learn how specialty coffee harvest works in order to adapt it on their own farms. Others are living in the village and working this job regularly in harvest seasons. Besides a base salary, both are paid for the most part by the amount of cherries they pick.
At the beginning, I thought you just choose a coffee tree and get to work! Unfortunately, it is not that easy ...
Because every harvested bean counts, I received a detailed briefing on how and what kind of beans I am exactly allowed to pick.
The extreme and changing climate this year has forced the coffee trees to develop the cherries in different degrees of ripeness. They show all possible colors, from light to dark green and light to dark red. And picking unripe cherries will definitely decrease the quality of the entire coffee crop.
Which cherries to pick?
Since the goal on this farm is to harvest the highest possible quality, harvesting is a very selective procedure and only the completely ripe coffee cherries may be taken from the coffee tree. You choose a row, position yourself in front of a coffee tree and carefully pick only the dark red, slightly soft cherries.
You put the picked cherries in a bucket that you wear around your hip. The hip bucket, as I would call it, holds about 5 kg of cherries. When it's full, you load the picked cherries into a sack that you place on the edge of your row of coffee trees.
Funny, but a little unpleasant at the same time, are the small insects that live in the coffee trees and crawl from time to time around your body and sometimes even inside your clothes. Spiders, ants and small and large bugs - it's all there. Long clothing and head protection will protect you a bit, but once you have the opportunity to experience the harvest in the field, you'll just have to accept your little friends for at least that day.
A professional picker manages to get about 70-100 kg coffee cherries within a day. It takes quite a lot of experience, technique and concentration to pick the right cherries from the trees. Although I tried hard, I didn't even come close to the average at my first time doing it.
After about 8-hours, one short break and one longer break, the day was almost over. At the end of picking we still had the big task of taking the proud harvest to the other end of the 2-hectare farm ahead of us where they would be all be weighed.
The coffee fields are mostly on steep hills, and the sacks were now all full of coffee. Each picker personally brings his or her daily harvest to the scales and as mentioned beforehand the daily wage is then calculated largely by the weight of the harvested coffee cherries. After weighing, and depending on how the coffee will be processed, the coffee cherries are stored in tanks before being peeled of their skins or laid out to dry along in whole cherries.
I really loved picking coffee. It trains your concentration, and you are in the middle of nature. Still, the work is very draining, depending on the weather and intensity of your little friends.
As a coffee entrepreneur and someone who is daily in contact with coffee beans I often catch myself taking coffee for granted. The experiences I’ve been making on coffee farms personally quickly showed me what loving, and detailed work stands behind each coffee. I appreciate every single coffee bean more since I experienced that it has gone through many hardworking hands before it finally ends up in a daily cup of coffee.
ENJOY YOUR COFFEE!
If you like our article about picking coffee, you might like this one too! What do you think is the key of making specialty coffee?
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