Luis Toruno and Ryan Sull hiking to their coffee picking location on finca Vietnam in La Dalia, Matagalpa, Nicaragua 2020.
A 3:30am-4:00am wake up call is not abnormal for most coffee pickers. In the early morning, they prepare their breakfast and walk to a local pick up location. Pickers gather from around the neighbourhood at the finca and recieve their baskets and sacks and are assigned a picking location. So begins a walk up several hundred meters above altitude into a cold, humid and misty climate. Once they arrive to their location, they'll eat a cold breakfast and begin picking around 5:30am-6am. Micro climates in coffee growing regions tend to have a lot of rainfall; it's important for them to dress appropriately for the physically demanding job, so they don't they get sick; though there's no way to protect their hands from getting cold. Pickers usually have lunch at noon; the lunch is provided by the owner of the finca. After lunch they continue picking; if the picking is good, they'll keep going until dusk and count at 4 or 5pm; if the picking is average, they'll finish around 2pm and the count will begin shortly after. After the count, the pickers walk back down to the finca and return their baskets and sacks. Dinner is handed out to the pickers and depending on the finca, pickers will either eat on site or take their food home. Coffee pickers will either walk home if they live on the finca or will be driven back to the location they were picked up.
Paraneima coffee cherries we selectively picked for our 48 hour anaerobic natural process experiment.
Coffee pickers live a very physically demanding lifestyle, but it's only temporary for the harvest season. In countries with lower GDP per capita, coffee picking is considered a good paying job. Normally a worker on a finca will earn 150 Nicaraguan Cordobas a day; during the harvest season, they can earn over 300 Cords a day. The higher paying time period gives families an opportunity to team up and multiply their pickings; they usually submit them all under one name. Unfortunately, with the low "C" market price it is hard to pay coffee pickers a good salary. This has started a coffee pickers crisis and it's becoming harder and harder to find good coffee pickers every year. Skilled coffee pickers give life to the specialty coffee industry; they are the first step of quality control.
Different levels of ripeness indicated different levels of sugar content within these Paraneima coffee cherries.
How can a coffee picker understand why quality is important? The best way is to demonstrate the difference in cup characteristics on the cupping table. Cupping with coffee pickers is a great way to help them understand the importance of selective picking, but this is incredibly rare. Selective picking is when coffee pickers only pick the ripest cherries and leave the ones that are not ready on the plant. Doing so, of course, will lead to less of yield at the end of the day, so specialty coffee pickers are often paid a premium wage. Colour is often a great way to gauge which coffee cherries to pick. Using a refractometer, we can identify the sugar content in the coffee cherries and match the pickings with the coffee cherry used in the refractormeter. An unskilled coffee picker can damage the buds and flower production of your future harvest. They can also greatly affect the rate of fermentation in a natural process, if there are cracks in the skin and large openings where the cherry was attached to the branch. It is important for everyone who works on the finca to appreciate the culture of quality coffee.
A coffee picker job may be the most overlooked within the coffee industry. It could be because many haven't seen what they actually do. Before writing about coffee picking, we decided to live a day in the life of a coffee picker, to better understand what it's like to live in their shoes. You can't write about coffee picking if you've never picked coffee.