What a poignant irony that Coffea aribaca —our prized coffee tree— thrives only in sheltered, mountainous, subtropical microclimates… far flung places with steeply sloping terrain that defies every step of those who labor to tend it.
And labor it is… prized coffee trees must be carefully tended if they are to produce an abundance of coffee cherries. Soil must drain well, be slightly acidic and rich with minerals. Weeds and creepers must be kept in check, but not eliminated; they cling to precious soil that might otherwise wash down the mountain slopes. Finally, coffee trees must be shaded from harsh sun, so a canopy of banana, nut and other fruit and hardwoods is planted and tended, too.
When the coffee cherries ripen, it’s all-hands to the harvest. It’s back-breaking work to hand pick the fruit on these steep, tangled slopes… ripening berriesand picking is done exclusively by hand, as only the ripest cherries will do. Fruit that’s too ripe will be sorted out in later processing, but under-ripe fruit is left on the tree for later pickings. Each tree will be visited as many as four times over the precious few days that ripeness is at is peak.
At day’s end, weary coffee-pickers haul their sacks of cherries down the steep slopes, and empty them onto burlap mats, where everyone joins in to pick out any green cherries, twigs and leaves. The cleaned cherries are carefully weighed. There’s good-natured rivalry here… ribbing for those who picked less than their usual; a sense of accomplishment for those who’ve picked most. It’s not just pride involved, however; workers are paid by how much they’ve picked, not by how long picking coffee berriesthey’ve labored.
While the coffee pickers collect their day’s pay and head for home, the fresh-picked coffee cherries have only begun their journey… within hours the sweet, picked fruit will begin to ferment in its own skin. Uncontrolled, that ferment will flavor the coffee beans inside. If the beans taste of ferment, despite the care they’ve seen in growing and harvesting, they’re practically worthless.
(Source: Green Mountain Coffee.com)