How to Grow and Harvest Coffee

By into the rustic - 12:25 PM

Coffee was first grown in the Horn of Africa, in Ethiopia, where it was harvested by slaves who would enjoy eating the sweet berry flesh that surrounds the beans while picking only the ripest to be processed for coffee beans.

Surprisingly people don’t realize that coffee is actually a berry, and what we have come to love is its seeds. The berry is sweet, aromatic, and very delicious. If you get a chance to grow your own coffee, I encourage you not to miss out on trying your first coffee berry.

The culture of coffee stretches across the face of the planet. It is a lucrative cash crop which provides jobs and a supportive economy to those countries that rely on its export.

It is a remarkable process to make coffee beans, of selecting and picking only the ripest berries, processing them by either fermentation or drying in full sun to remove the skins , and then polishing and roasting to get the rich hues of coffee we find at the supermarket today.

Harvesting Your Coffee

Pick only the most mature cherry red berries from your coffee tree. You will know when they are ready to be picked when they are easily plucked from the branches with little effort.

If you have to tug hard, that means they need more time to ripen. Remember the color of the berries should be a dark crimson all over with no yellow. (Some people leave the berries on the tree to dry, but you run the risk of birds destroying your crop or having them rot if you get too much rain, so I prefer to pick them as they ripen.)

There are several ways to remove the outer layers of the berry to produce the seed or coffee beans inside. One is fermentation, then there is the semi-wet process, and then lastly there is the dry process. 

The dry process is the cheapest, simplest, and the most widely used to this day. 95% of all Arabica coffee is yielded using the dry method. Special machines and large amounts of water are required for the other processes so they can become labor intensive and costly. So for this instructional, I will only mention the dry process.

Lay out your red beans in the hot sunshine on trays or directly on concrete, until they turn brownish black in color and feel papery and brittle to the touch. The drying process could take up to 4 weeks depending on your climate. 

The rule of thumb is that you want a total moisture content of 11% in your beans. Rake the beans several times a day to ensure they dry completely and that no mildew forms on them. Over-drying is a problem as well, as this causes the beans to become overly fragile during the hulling process and your beans will crack, so watch carefully over the drying stage and remove any that show signs of rotting or that appear to be finished.

Once the beans are dried fully, remove their outer shells. Yes this is done by hand, and can take some time. Now that the shells are off there is an optional process of polishing the beans which will remove the silvery skin layer directly on the surface of the bean. 

This in no way improves the quality of the taste or changes the bean in any way. But in major coffee distributorships, the polished beans are considered a “superior” bean. I personally find it a complete waste of time as do most other coffee growers. If it doesn’t change it, why do it? Like the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Once you have your naked beans you then roast them to get the chocolate brown color we all know and love. You can use a hot drum, a roasting machine, or hot air to get them to the finished product. 

The temperature of the roasting machines usually maintains the heat to remain at a constant 550 degrees F. When the internal temperature of the bean reaches 400 degrees F they will begin to turn brown and the Caffeol or oil inside the bean begins to appear- this process is called Pyrolysis and is pivotal to making coffee. 

Once your beans are done roasting they are immediately cooled with either air or water. Then you simply grind, brew, and pour!

Planting Coffee Trees

The coffee beans that you harvested and hulled (but not yet roasted obviously), also serve as your seeds to plant more coffee trees. Plant each seed 1 1/2” in depth in rich organic soil with a lot of compost and well-aged manure. 

Water to keep moist, and keep out of bright sunlight until they are ready to be transplanted outside. It takes approximately 3-4 years for your coffee plant to reach the age of maturity where it will begin to flower and produce coffee beans. 

If you live in a cooler climate or a region that gets sparse rainfall, greenhouses are the way to go where you can control the environment and get the best results.

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