When a coffee tree reaches maturity, which can take from 4 - 7 years, it begins to bear fruit in clusters along its branches. Referred to as cherries, the fruit is initially green and turns red when it is ready for harvesting.
Beneath the cherries' red skin ( called exocarp ) is a pulp ( called mesocarp ), and outer layer and a parchment-like covering the bean ( called endocarp ). Inside these layers are usually two oval shaped beans, with their flat side facing each other. Harvesting time for coffee cherries will vary by region and altitude. Typically, there is only one harvest per year, which will last for 2 to 3 months as cherries ripen.
In countries North of the Equator harvest occurs from September to March. South of the Equator harvest is from April to August. In some countries where there is no clearly defined wet and dry seasons there will be two flowerings and harvests per year. Kenya is one of these countries which has it's main crop followed by it's "fly" crop which is generally much smaller than the main crop.
Traditionally coffee is harvested by hand by one of two ways: strip picking or selective picking.
Strip picking is exactly how it sounds, trees are harvested entirely at one time "stripping" all the beans off the branches, ripe as well as unripe cherries. Typically, only Robusta coffee is strip picked. Modernization has provided machine harvest for Robusta coffee which simply shakes the trees knocking of all the cherries at one time.
Selective picking involves making numerous passes over coffee trees, selecting only the ripe cherries, then returning to the tree several times over a few weeks to pick remaining cherries as they ripen. Selective picking is more expensive due to the labor involved and is only used for Arabica coffee.
On an average farm, pickers gather between 100 and 200 pounds of cherries per day. Out of this only 20 percent is actual coffee beans. Of that 20 percent only a small amount is of the best quality we choose for our coffee.