The fruit of the coffee plant, known as a drupe, is similar in appearance to a cherry. As it ripens it changes colour, from green to bright red or yellow. The skin of the drupe is thick and shiny, while its flesh is soft and sweet. Inside the drupe, the seeds (destined to become future coffee beans) are covered in mucilage – a sticky, sugary layer – and two membranes, one thicker than the other: the silver skin and the parchment.
The harvest stage is a crucial point for the fruit, one which will determine the final quality of our coffee. Fruit ripens according to different time scales, depending on rainfall. This means that we can find unripe, ripe, and overripe fruits all on the same plant. This is what makes harvesting such a delicate task.
Once the harvest is complete, it’s time to begin the processing. This starts by removing the flesh and mucilage from the drupe to obtain the green coffee. There are two different types of processing, each of which must begin on the very same day as the harvest.
The most traditional method is the manual one, also called picking, in which only the ripe drupes are selected by hand.
Stripping is the method by which all the fruits present on a single branch are shucked.
It is possible to harvest the drupes mechanically, using shaking machines operating only on flat land such as in the Cerrado Mineiro in Brazil.
The dry process begins with drying the drupes either naturally, by leaving them in the sun, or mechanically. Then, once they have dried, the beans are removed from the drupes by means of a hulling machine to obtain the natural coffee.
In the wet process, the beans are immersed in vats of water where the mucilage decomposes to release the bean. The result of this process is called washed coffee.
The final stage is hulling, when the outer coat is removed from the dried drupe.
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