Picking Coffee Cherries

My first real coffee activity in Costa Rica was picking and processing coffee cherries. Processing removes the beans from the cherry.

Picking Cherries

After an eye-opening drive to the plantation, we rode down the driveway to the parking area beside the house. It is difficult to show in the pictures just how steep the side of the mountain is. I found it a challenge to climb up to the plants. The pickers navigate the slopes while wearing black rubber boots and carrying a 75-pound sack of cherries.

Hard working Panama migrant workers carry out 75-pound bags

Picking coffee is “piece-work” – meaning that the pickers are paid for the quantity collected by volume. With this high-quality coffee you pick only the ripe cherries. A tree will be picked about 4 times during each season, removing only the cherries that are ready for processing.

Ripe Red Cherries
Ripe Yellow Cherries

The unripe cherries are green.

The unit of measure is the “Cajuela.” The green box is government certified for accuracy. A Cajuela is 17 litres and there are 20 cajuelas in the fanega, which is the equivalent of about 1.5 bushels.

Cajuela for measuring cherry picking results (17 litres)

In larger operations, the Fanega is used.

Large crops are sold to processing plants by the Fanega. This stand in Santa Maria buys cherries from local farmers.

Coffee Cherry purchasing station

Coffee Cherry purchasing station, it uses a system to measure the coffee called angarilla, which is the equivalent of half a fanega.

On this day, the purchase price was 113,000 colones (roughly $226 US dollars) for a fanega of ripe cherries. This is easily 50% higher than last year, due to the shortage of coffee and the speculation going on right now.

On the farm, the pickers brought their harvest down in sacks. Each sack is about 3 cajuelas and has to be measured.

The price per cajuela has already been negotiated with the workers. So the only factor left is how many cajuelas were picked in the day. An average worker can do at least 5 cajuelas a day and could go as high as 9 or 10 during the center of the harvest.

The counting is done by two parties. In this photo, Walter (blue shirt) is acting for Matias (red shirt and white hat). In a regular operation, the one measuring is there to ensure the cajuela is full and the picker is there to ensure it is not over filled. Even with this principle in place the pickers always keep an eye on the process.

Each full cajuela is poured into a sack and placed beside the machine. The sack behind Walter has been measured and is ready to process.

Walter (blue shirt) ensures the Cajuela is full

At the end of the count the number of cajuelas is agreed on and the total paid at the end of the week, on Saturday. If there is a dispute, the process is repeated. Since this is a financial transaction, everyone watches.

Watching the count

Other harvests can be brought in once all of the farm coffee is counted. Here, bags are brought in from a neighboring farm for processing.

Cherries are also brought from other farms to be processed

This picture gives some idea of how steep the hill is. The truck is left in gear, the parking brake applied and then the external “parking brake” is placed. I loved the ingenuity and practicality. This truck is a 1973 Toyota Land Cruiser pick up with over 500,000 miles on it.

It's called a parking brake

> Processing the Coffee Cherries