October 29, 2018

How to be a Coffee Picker

First Published - July 20, 2012

Picking of coffee cherries from the tree is a very important part of the process of producing a great cup. Skilled producers know when is best to start picking and often work very long days ensuring that only the best quality cherries are selected, as fast as possible.  Pascale visited farms during the picking season and also tried her hand at it herself.

Coffee picking in Guatemala

It is always exciting to see (and taste!) red ripe coffee cherries. These are ready to be harvested, dried and processed into a nice cup of coffee. If you eat the fresh cherrries out in the field, the best ones are deliciously sweet.

Coffee pickers collect between 100 and 200 pounds (45 and 90 kg.) of coffee cherries per day. Only 20 percent of this weight is the actual bean. All coffee in Guatemala is processed with the wet method, this means that the pulp of the coffee cherry is removed from the beans within few hours of harvesting.  Even after a full day of picking there is still a lot of work to do.

Coffee Picking in Costa Rica

Here, Pascale joined in to see exactly what is involved in a day of picking – which is challenging work.

Coffee picking starts early in the morning, when temperatures are more pleasant. Depending on the size of the harvest and the amount of labourers available (after picking the coffee needs to be processed within a few  hours)  normally a day of harvesting ends between 3 and 4 o’clock. As Union Hand Roasted Coffee buys only the best quality Arabica beans it is important to pick only the red ripe cherries and separate these from the green ones. Beans should be picked selectively, ideally by hand rather than machine, and not stripped from the tree.

In the village of San Jeronimo the pickers are mainly family members – wives, siblings and inlaws and sometimes neighbours too.  Both men and women participate in the coffee harvest.

Picking only the red ripe cherries is easier said than done. I really tried, and was picking the slowest of everyone, but after an hour I only managed about a quarter of a basket. It didn’t help that the basket, which you wear around your body, fell off…so I spent quite some time collecting cherries from the ground. I dont think I’ll be offered a full time job next season.

What is a cajuela?

So how did Pascale do? Looks like she maybe filled a “cajuela”.

The wooden box being filled up with cherries is called a cajuela, the volume measurement used in Costa Rica to measure the amount of red cherries harvested. It is a rather complicated system to explain.

“What is a cajuela?”

“Well, a faneja has 20 cajuelas.”

“So what is a faneja then?”

“A faneja will give around 46 kilograms of coffee.”

A roaster might buy 400 fanejas of  coffee at one time, but because here at Union we handroast in bespoke quantities, we can take much smaller quantities of very special beans.  Some of our microlots may be as few as 10 fanejas, making them rather rare indeed.


1 fanega in coffee cherries equals 250 kgs. gross weight, once it has been pulped and then dry milled this equals 46 Kgs.  Which is 1 quintal of green bean net weight.

So for example Union bought 345Kg of coffee from Finca Genesis, which is 7.5 quintals. To produce this required 10 fanegas (or 2500Kg) of coffee cherries to develop this microlot.

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