Picking completely ripe coffee cherry is critical to the quality of any coffee, regardless of processing method. Even if only 15% of the cherry are under ripe, it will show up as a slightly sour flavor in the coffee (similar to how biting into an unripe apple discloses a less desirable taste).
Ensuring that the cherry is uniformly ripe is one of the most basic and yet most constant messages that we deliver at source. It presents a challenge to the producers on a number of levels: handpicking is the only method of selectively picking only ripe cherries; pickers are typically paid by volume or weight and want to get as much in their basket as possible; cherry ripens gradually on the branch and so the same plants must be picked a number of times.
Optimal sugar content of ripe cherries ranges between 15 to 21%. Without a BRIX meter, we gauge it by the color and uniformity of the cherry on the branch. We use terms like ‘sangre de toro’ (blood of the bull), ‘red wine’ and ‘burgundy’ to help farmers recognize the perfect level of maturity. We encourage our producers to monetarily reward discerning pickers who select only ripe cherry. Many of our long term Direct Trade producers pay their pickers much higher wages than other local farmers.