Despite lush, volcanic soil and envy-evoking rainfalls, most of the coffee bearing countries featured by Wild Calf still only have one harvest a year (except Columbia, which has two harvests). Since there's only one harvest, sometimes we roasters have to wait until the next coffee season to offer our customers their favorite specialty coffees. And sometimes, the newest harvest may offer a slightly different flavor nuance from the last.
Coffee harvest lasts months. Months. Which isn't so uncommon compared to our areas les-than-tropical crops. The reason coffee harvests take so long is because they are almost always hand-picked. For real. Hand. Picked. Some farms aren't' as steep, allowing for machines to do the harvest work. But many still hand-pick their coffee cherries because of difficulty in affording harvesting equipment.
There are two common harvesting methods. Selective harvesting involves (typically) three pickings where the picker goes through the fields picking only the fruit that is ready. The first picking is usually small as the coffee cherries are just ripening. The second picking is the best for quality, and the third picking is the, "Dear Coffee, please just be ripe already," harvest.
Some farmers strip-harvest their cherries. This means that they strip all the cherries off of the branches, regardless of their ripeness. Although the method is less tedious and less time consuming, the overall product may not be of equal quality to selective harvesting.
Once the harvest is over the farmer is left with these beautiful, red cherries (harboring two precious seeds of caffeinated glory). Farmers somehow have to extract the coveted seeds from the fruit in what is called processing. Processing is simply, "here's how we got these two little buggers out of the coffee cherry."
Next, the coffee beans need to rest. Ironically coffee--which helps us to wake-up and face Carol early Monday morning-- needs a seven to sixty day rest first. Some farmers dry their beans in the sun for seven days, and some dry in the shade for sixty days. (Wild Calf does not advise customers to ask employers for a similar rest. Or Carol.) But we will expand on this in another blog.
After the hand-picked harvest, after the processing, after the resting siesta comes the final step before the coffee beans catch their flight to Montana: bagging and shipping. The bagging process is (again) usually by hand and the shipping process can take (once again) months to finish!
Although some farms are able to produce enough coffee to cover demand for the entire year, most can't. Which is why certain Wild Calf coffees may not always be available. It's also why our coffee may taste a little different from bag to bag. Our newest shipment may be from a different farm (with different soil, different elevation, different rainfall, or even a different picker--yes, the skill of the picker can affect the flavor!) When it brews down to it, a myriad of complicated work went into getting those little beans into our pantry. But knowing all this just makes that dark, caffeinated liquid taste even better. Even if Picker Joe's talents weren't used last harvest.