A calendar of coffee harvests across the world
October 21, 2021
Coffees are seasonal in nature – on any given day, coffee from a certain country fills the shelves of the local roasters, and a few months later, it’s nowhere to be found. This is a common experience for most coffee drinkers, and the main reason for this is that the harvest seasons for coffee vary across countries.
A coffee tree is typically harvested only once in a year. As coffee cherries do not continue to ripen after being picked off the plant, they are often handpicked only at their peak ripeness. As coffee plants in the crop gradually ripen over time, harvest periods for each country span over a few months.
From our experience with purchasing coffees, we put together a calendar that represents the coffee harvesting seasons for coffees of various origins:
Coffee harvesting season generally starts in the middle of the calendar year, or towards the end of the year, and carries on into the next. This can be attributed to coffee being an equatorial crop – it is primarily grown in countries around the equator at a range of latitudes between 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator (commonly known as the “Coffee Belt”). Coffee growing regions in the Northern hemisphere have harvest periods starting in the middle of the year, while regions in the Southern hemisphere start their harvest periods around the end of the year.
Besides the location, climate is another external factor that affects coffee harvests. Droughts can delay the flowering of coffee plants, and heavy rains can prolong the time taken to harvest and process coffee cherries. Coffee harvests in the same place can thus vary across years.
Countries that lie close to the equator have suitable weather for harvesting coffee throughout the year – Colombia and Kenya see two coffee harvests a year. The second harvest – commonly known as a Fly Crop, or mitaca – are smaller harvests that run counter cyclical to the calendar of main crop harvests.
Harvests and arrival
After coffee is harvested, it undergoes some processes before it can be roasted and delivered to one’s doorstep.
Coffees are processed to transform freshly picked coffee cherries into green coffee that is ready to be exported. Processing often takes place over a few months, depending on the exact steps taken.
After the initial processing, the coffee beans, in their parchment form, are taken to rest, or reposo, for a period of between 15-90 days. This allows the moisture in the green coffee to be distributed more evenly throughout the beans for stability and longevity in storage.
Other factors that can cause delays in the supply chain include the country of origin, market structure, and transport infrastructure. Landlocked countries, like Bolivia, would require more time to get their coffees exported by sea, and countries where coffees are traded via a central exchange also take a slightly longer time from harvest to export.
Delays from the coffee harvesting to receipt of green coffee at our roastery in Singapore are common. In the quickest cases, where we purchased coffees directly from farms, coffees can arrive within three months of the beans being harvested. On the flipside, the initial COVID lockdowns also led to delivery of coffees being severely delayed, some of which arrived nearly six months after the coffee was harvested!
It is fortunate that green coffee is a relatively hardy commodity, and it can be kept for some time without any adverse impact on its final taste.
Knowledge of the coffee harvesting seasons allows us to better understand the fluctuations in coffee supply, as well as appreciate the complex chains that work together to bring us this wonderful cup of coffee from halfway across the world.
Should you visit a specialty coffee joint and find that they ran out of your favourite coffee, remember the coffee harvest calendar and ponder: Are you just unlucky, or is it simply seasonal luck?