Harvesting Kona Coffee

One of the things that makes Kona coffee so special is how it is harvested.

  1. When does Kona coffee bloom?
  2. What is Kona snow?
  3. When do the green coffee berries appear on the coffee trees?
  4. What is a cherry?
  5. When does the picking of the cherry begin?
  6. How often are the cherry picked?
  7. Can’t the coffee picking process be mechanized?
  8. How much coffee does each tree produce?
  9. About how much coffee can one person pick in a typical day?

The coffee trees bloom from January to May.

Kona snow is the name given to the small white, sweet-smelling flowers that cover the coffee trees.  These fragrant blossoms appear at the beginning of the rainy season and continue to appear at intervals between January and May.

The green coffee berries begin to show in April.  They grow during the wet spring/summer months and then ripen in during the fall/winter months.

The cherry is the sweet and pulpy fruit of the coffee tree. This fruit begins as a green berry and eventually becomes yellow, crimson, orange, and then finally deep red when it is known as a cherry (which it resembles) and is ready to be picked.  Each cherry contains two seeds, which are the gourmet Hawai‘i coffee beans.

The picking of the Kona coffee cherry begins by the end of August when the cherry begin to ripen.  The blossoms continue to appear and ripen over the next several months, perhaps until February.

Between August and February the coffee trees may be hand-picked four to six times, and perhaps as many as eight times.  This long harvest season, and the necessity of meticulously hand-picking only the ripe, red coffee cherries at peak maturity – and not before they ripen or when they are overripe – makes Hawaiian Kona coffee the world’s most labor intensive agricultural commodity.

No.  Hand picking of Kona coffee is necessary because the gourmet coffee berries ripen at varying times.  When some of the cherry are ready to be picked others need to be left to ripen.  Another reason the process cannot be mechanized is that the volcanic lava landscape of the “Kona Coffee Belt” is hilly and rocky, and often quite difficult to traverse.  The difficulty navigating the terrain with machinery makes in necessary to plant, tend, and harvest the coffee trees by hand.

Also a problem with some of the large plantations is that the plants are scorched by the hot Hawaiian sun, and the cherry are force ripened.  These Hawai‘i coffee crops are mechanically harvested (thus many beans are picked either before or after the ideal picking time).

As a result of all of these factors, the coffee beans from these plantations are generally smaller and have a high number of defects per pound, and consequently the taste of the coffee that is produced does not at all compare to the premium coffee quality of gourmet Kona coffee.  However, there certainly are some local coffee farms in the Hawaiian Islands that are growing high quality coffee beans and taking great pride in their product.

“If this is coffee, then please-bring me some tea. But if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.”
- Abraham Lincoln

About 25 pounds of cherry is produced by each coffee tree.

A good coffee picker can pick about 100 pounds of coffee cherry in one day.  A highly skilled picker may be able to pick 400 pounds in one day during a bountiful season.  There have been accounts of truly expert pickers harvesting as much as 1,200 pounds in just one day, bean by bean!  These expert pickers are so smooth and consistent that the constant falling of the berries into their buckets is said to resemble the sounds of the Kona rain.

Next: Processing the Bean

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