It may surprise you to know that even if Batangas and Cavite are coffee strongholds, many of the farmers are aging and are passing on their harvesting chores to hired hands usually from other non coffee-producing towns. We see this happening in our very own Amadeo, Cavite where red and GREEN coffee fruits can be seen drying on the roadside. Ideally, coffee should be picked when ripe or when it is a red bright cherry color. Alas, these hired hands are paid by the bucket or can, and do not have to choose which coffee fruit to pick. The more they pick, the more cans they present to the landowner, the better they get paid.
First, let us explain the natural occurence that coffee fruits do not turn red all at the same time. They ripen at different times..usually covering about 5-8 weeks(or more) between the months of December to February. The ideal scenario would be for farmers to go back to the tree several times during harvest season…and choose only the red ripe cherries. But because landowners are rushing to pick everything at one time, they allow the hired hands to “strip pick” the whole branch or stem of coffee trees which are thick with fruits…regardless if they are red or still an immature green.
The hired hand is paid by volume. Not a daily wage earner, he rushes to fill each can with coffee berries so he can earn as much as he can. Yes, it is sad that after waiting for a year to harvest coffee, we do not harvest it at peak of ripeness.
This is why the Philippine Coffee Board undertakes a regular campaign called “Pick Red”. It is a simple reminder that coffee fruits must be red for them to produce high quality and at least “ripe at the tree” coffee. That is but the first step in ensuring we get good coffee.
This simple instruction or practice is often overlooked and not given much attention, for you will not know what coffee comes out of immature cherries until they are processed. So, for step one, volume of coffee harvest is the game and the target. Not quality.
In faraway Panamao, Sulu our community of coffee pickers have been doing “pick red” campaigns since 2009 and further strengthened in 2011. As each year passes by, the harvest of red fruits have increased and has made “red cherries” the norm even for small children who help their parents pick coffee fruits.
It used to be that any fruit of the coffee tree, regardless of color, was okay to pick. But the champion of Sulu’s coffee community in Panamao did one better. They washed their coffee as a process. In the washing process, all the coffee must be red for the pulp to come off during the washing. Red ripe coffee cherries are easily pulped whereas green immature coffee fruits will not be as easy to pulp..or may be just dried to get immature beans that give coffee an “off” taste.
It is an easy task but not many people know we need to wait for fruits to turn red. So we continue our campaign year after year. PICK RED has resulted in farmers using the term to indicate better coffee harvests. Better coffee quality. But that is only the first step. After picking the ripest, farmers will want to know what to do next to ensure better prices for coffee.
Photos courtesy of Joji Pantoja and ECHOstore.