Harvesting Kona Coffee

Picking Season in the lower part of the Kona coffee belt is late August to December. The period from late September to early November is the busiest. At the higher elevations of Kona the harvesting period can stretch throughout the year.

Kona Coffee is ready for picking when it turns from green to slightly red to glossy red (except for yellow-fruited varieties such as 'Yellow Caturra' or 'Yellow Catuai' that remain yellow and do not turn red). Another test for maturity for harvesting is if the seeds (the parchment coffee with bean inside) can be squeezed out by hand.

If the fruit is hard and the seed cannot be squeezed out, the fruit is too immature to pulp. Under conditions of "overbearing dieback", the fruit may turn from green to reddish brown. These fruits are usually smaller than normal and probably contain immature, low-quality beans; these fruits generally 'float' on top during wet-milling and are removed during processing.

Coffee fruit on a tree doesn't mature all at once: several stages of cherry development can be found on the same tree. Individual coffee cherries are picked by hand when ripe. Picking 4 to 10 rounds in one season is common, with a 3 to 4-week interval between each picking. The number of rounds depends much on elevation. In upper areas of Kona, the coffee ripens almost all year round. In lower areas ripening occurs over a period of four months. At the peak of the harvest season experienced pickers gather between 200 and 400 pounds of coffee per day.

Hand-harvesting equipment needed for harvesting coffee is simple and inexpensive: baskets for the individual picker, holding hooks for bringing branches into position for picking; and burlap bags for transporting coffee cherries from the orchard to the processing area. Coffee pickers in Hawaii in the past used baskets locally made from pandanus leaves. Today, plastic baskets and imported woven baskets from Central America are used. The capacity of these baskets is between 20-25 pounds of coffee cherry. The baskets may be suspended from the shoulder or fastened with a belt around the picker's waist. The holding hooks are usually made of 3 to 4-foot long sticks of coffee or guava wood to which a cord is attached. The length of the cord is adjusted to the picker's height, in relation to the average height of the trees. The sticks are usually  about 1-1/2 inches in diameter at the thickest end. A loop of wire tied onto the cord affords a place for the picker's foot, which can be inserted to hold the hooked branch in place while the picker removes coffee with both hands free. The hook-end may simply be the stump of a  branch or a metal hook screwed into the stick.