Due to the botanical characteristics of the coffee plant and the fact that coffee is often grown in mountainous areas, widespread use of mechanical harvesters is not possible and the ripe coffee cherries are usually picked by hand, a labor-intensive and difficult process. The main exception is Brazil, where the relatively flat landscape and immense size of the coffee fields have permitted mechanization of the process.
In most places the harvest comes once a year. The harvest can last as long as three months. In some countries with multiple rainy seasons cherries are picked all year round. In other countries, there is only a several month period when harvest is possible. The cherries must be harvested frequently or they will become over-ripe. Each plant will yield an average of 2 to 4 kilos of cherries and a good picker can harvest 45.5-90.7kg (100 to 200 lbs.) of coffee cherry a day, which will produce 9-18kg (20 to 40 lbs.) of coffee beans.
Mechanical harvesters straddle the tree rows. They have heavy counterweights on top of two columns which are driven at variable speeds, as these weights spin they cause the columns to rotate. Attached to the columns are hundreds of picking rods, which vibrate and oscillate as the weights on top rotate. The vibration of these rods through the trees knock the coffee cherries off the branches. Below the columns and between the trees are collection plates that the cherries roll down into conveyers which carry them up to the holding container.
The term “selective harvest” refers to the practice of only picking fruit that is at optimal ripeness while leaving unripe fruit behind to be picked later. Being selective requires more labor and time but it pays off as it results in a much higher quality coffee
The entire crop is harvested at one time. This can be done either by machine or by hand. In either case, all of the cherries (under ripe, ripe and over ripe) are stripped off of the branch at one time.