The four harvesting phases of coffee cultivation

From the tree to the bean: What grows when, and how long does cultivation take?

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Did you know that coffee plants are actually trees that can grow up to an impressive 10 metres in the wild? Or that it takes around two years for a coffee plant to flower for the first time? And that a single tree can then bear thousands of blossom flowers?

As lovers of the finer things in life, we at Dallmayr are passionate about coffee – but not only because it is one of the world’s most popular drinks. It’s also because the coffee bean is such a fascinating agricultural product whose cultivation is a true craft. Coffee cultivation is an elaborate cycle that spans the whole year and varies depending on the geographical location. Here, we take a look at the four harvesting phases of coffee cultivation.

Phase 1: Flowering

Flowering, which in many coffee-growing regions takes place from March to May, is one of the most important phases of coffee cultivation. Once the rainy season sets in, the coffee bush develops blossom flowers, which transform plantations into a magnificent sea of white. These flowers – whose appearance and fragrance are reminiscent of jasmine – make only a brief appearance and are gone within a few days. Pollination is usually aided by the wind or insects and is crucial for subsequent fruit formation.

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Did you know?

The flowering phase usually lasts for several weeks, but this is heavily dependent on the specific climate zone and local weather conditions.

Phase 2: Fruit development

Fruit begins to develop after the flowering stage, and this phase lasts from June to August. After blossoming, the plants start to develop cherry-like fruits – and these are, in fact, called “coffee cherries”. One distinctive feature of the coffee plant is that these cherries do not ripen in unison, but at different stages. That’s quite important to know, because while they are ripening, the cherries store a number of compounds that are responsible for the coffee’s complex flavours and aromas. And you’ll certainly recognise the seeds of the coffee cherries: they are the coffee beans we all know and love.

This phase is also crucial because the fruit needs enough water and nutrients for optimal growth. That involves a lot of work for our coffee farmers: the plants need constant care to keep away pests and disease, as these could negatively impact the harvest.

Good to know: The time it takes for coffee fruit to develop varies according to location. By the way, coffee is grown in about 80 countries around the equator – mainly in Brazil and Vietnam.

Phase 3: Maturation

Maturation, or ripening, is perhaps the most important phase for the coffee’s final flavour profile. Because contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the freshness of the coffee that contributes most to its flavour, but rather the ripeness of the beans. The ripening process sees the coffee cherries change colour from green to a bright red, yellow or orange – depending on the type of coffee.

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So why is this phase particularly important? Harvesting the fruit at just the right moment has an enormous impact on the quality of the beans. And since a single branch can carry blossoms and fruit at different stages of ripeness – with green, yellowish and fully ripe red cherries all growing at the same time – harvesting requires a particularly well-trained eye.

Did you know?

Coffee cherries contain a lot of sugar and have a moisture content of about 60%. Overripe fruit will therefore quickly deteriorate and decay.

Phase 4: The harvest

The harvest can be described as the highlight of coffee cultivation, and its exact timing depends on where the cherries are grown within the “coffee belt” – the zone that circles the globe just north and south of the equator. North of the equator, the harvesting season typically lasts from September to December, while to the south it can stretch from April or May to August.

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In the regions where we source our coffee, the ripe coffee cherries are often carefully picked by hand so that only the best and ripest fruit is gathered. High-quality arabica coffees – for example our sustainable single-origin Ethiopia or Colombia Pink Bourbon from our Röstkunst (art of roasting) range – need to be picked by hand due to the altitude of the plantations, while sophisticated harvesting machines are used for more robust varieties. Once harvesting is complete, processing begins: the beans are extracted from the cherries, fermented, washed and dried.

Good to know: The length of the harvesting season varies depending on location. However, what never changes is the care and expertise required to guarantee the fundamental quality of the harvest. This is vital for achieving the best possible results when roasting the beans.

Coffee cultivation is a complex, seasonal process that requires care and attention throughout the year. Each harvesting phase comes with its own challenges and tasks – from flowering, fruit development and maturation to the actual harvesting and processing. Dallmayr works with experienced coffee farmers who understand these phases perfectly and whose expertise is crucial for the production of our high-quality coffees.

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