Coffee from Barrett's 1928 Tropical Crops

Image retrieved from on June 10th, 2014

Harvesting and Marketing Coffee

From September to January, from Venezuela to Mexico the picking of coffee takes place. In Brazil and Columbia there are practically two seasons.

Men, women and children clamber up and down steep slopes, the baskets slung on a strap or cord over the shoulder; reaching, straining, slipping, sliding in Spanish America, Ceylon, and Java. In Brazil there is another way, as there is neither time nor necessity to bend down every branch, two, three, or four times in the season. There the plantations are of large trees, no shade, and clean level ground. The ripe berries are shaken, beaten, or pulled off, either onto the ground or onto mats or sacking carpets, then scooped up, the rubbish sifted out and dumped into boxes, barrels, carts or any receptacle to haul the raw product down to the pulping and drying plant. In some estates the berries are flumed down in canals, flumes, or pipes, a very material saving in transportation.

Then machines take up the work. In the small fincas there are still thousands of hand-pulpers. One or two men turn the cylinder which tears the fruits apart, the pulp falling into one spout and the seeds into another. A few hundredweight an hour are cared for by this old method, still extremely common. The big power mills on the large estates can de-pulp tons an hour. Water is run into the big hoppers to keep the sticky sarcocarp from clogging the short dull teeth on the rapidly revolving cylinder. The seeds, covered with the sweet mucilaginous stuff, are run inot huge tanks with only a little water; and there they stay, stirred from time to time, for twenty-eight hours to ferment off the vestiges of the pulp. Tons of sugar are wasted thereby, but may more tons are lost in the pulp itself, which ought to be good as cattle feed or something similar.

The seeds, after the s-called fermenting process is completed, are washed and then, in their clean, horny, pale dull yellow parchment coats they go to drying floors as possibly to some form of hot-air dryer. In the dry season, with good clear sun, beans should be dry in three to five days, if they are raked over frequently and well protected from dew and damaging showers. The artificial-heat apparatus, with trays or revolving cylinder or drum, may take the place of the broad "barbecue" with stone, brick, or concrete floor. The trays can be run out on tracks and, in cases of danger from a sudden rain or at night, can be run back in under a shed roof, the tracks so arranged that the trays store in tiers, three to five or more, one above the other, in the tray house. It is a joyful sound to the dryer boss when the beans begin to purr and finally rattle as the peons shove and draw them about so that each seed gets its share of sun. Fortunately, the loose-fitting parchment shell inclosing the seed is nearly mold-proof; this is a great factor in drying, as there is no sticking together, no caking in lumps, as in the case of cacao.

The next steps in the process are to break out the real seed from the parchment coat, or endocarp, and then polish off the fine flaky "silverskin", or inner covering. the hand mortar and pestle can break the tough outer coat, which splits into two or more pieces, at the rate of a few pounds an hour. This is still practiced widely. The great de-hulling machines, or "tahonas", consist of two steel-rimmed wheels on a horizontal axle, about 8 feet long, whirled by a vertical shaft, running rapidly around over the beans in a circular trough. Half and hour or so of this treatment and the charge, several hundredweight, is run into a winnowing mill which fans out the hulls and passes the seeds, now shining blue-gray in their tight fitting silver coats, over to a second polishing machine.

Excerpt from O. W. Barrett's Tropical Crops, (1928, pp. 75-77)

Image from p. 68b

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coffee plantation Bogota circa 1900