Coffee plants generally flower once or twice per year depending upon the amount and pattern of rainfall in a particular growing region. As the flowers close, the coffee cherries (the fruit containing the coffee beans) begin to develop. When the cherries are ripe and glossy red, usually some six to nine months after blossoming, they are harvested.
To yield only high quality coffee, the cherries must be picked when they are perfectly ripe, and not the least bit under or overripe. Time is of the essence as the window between the two is only a matter of days. Obtaining only perfectly ripened cherries is not an easy matter. The harvesting process is complicated by the number of flowerings as well as the fact that all the different stages of ripeness may be present at the same time on a single branch.
Quality coffee requires careful picking. On the best farms, coffee cherries are picked weekly during the harvest. The cherries should be kept as intact as possible, and care should be taken to keep foreign matter such as wood or leaves out of the harvesting container. Machines that shake or strip the branches will not only taint the contents of the container but damage the coffee plant as well, resulting in poor quality coffee. The best option for retaining quality is labor-intensive hand picking.