Coffee shrubs take three to four years to mature. After the appearance of delicate white buds with a strong scent of jasmine, the shrubs produce berries in rows along the branches. The berry resembles a cherry and contains within the coffee bean or seed. It is initially green gradually darkening to a crimson red.
Arabica beans ripen in six to eight months. Robusta beans take three more months. This results in only one coffee harvest per year, although the variable climate of Colombia and Kenya allows for a second harvest.
The time of the coffee harvest varies depending on the geography of the land: those regions that produce coffee on the northern half of the Ecuador, typically harvest their crops at the end of the year, whilst on the southern hemisphere, coffee is harvested in the spring. Equatorial countries harvest throughout the year.
Despite some mechanized harvests, manual harvest yields a better selection of berries without causing damage to the shrubs. Most Arabica coffee is harvested manually.
Two methods are used to process harvested coffee berries. The most economical is known as the “dry” process method, where harvested berries are laid under the sun and raked regularly to prevent fermentation. Once “dry” (in fact they still contain some moist), they are stored in silos to lose the remaining moisture. The “wet” process method is used to preserve more the flavor of the bean. The flesh around the bean is removed as soon as the coffee is harvested and the remaining flesh is removed using water. While the beans float in the water, it is possible to separate the smaller ones from the bigger and most ripe beans.
After each one of these processes, the beans are dried in parchment like wrappings. They are then stored as parchment like coffee, ready to be transferred for clean-up and classification, depending on density and size, in set categories prior to going for sale. In the classification process, all black, rotten or imperfect beans are removed. Errors in this regard could result to the loss of an entire shipment.
When a coffee consign is offered, the coffee is tasted in the form of liquor by the coffee dealers who purchase the beans. They will then roast the coffee until it reaches a point that satisfies the taste of their local markets.