Coffee is really a fruit. Coffee branches form delicate white, jasmine-like blossoms that last for a little more than a day. These blossoms give way to coffee "cherries" that are red and round and very much resemble our own native cherries.
It takes 3 to 5 years for the plants to begin producing and that is possible only with the proper combination of climate, rain, sunshine and shade.
Arabica coffee plants do best in rich, volcanic mountain soil. The higher elevations cause the coffee bean to grow more slowly, which in turn leads to a more aromatic and flavorful coffee.
Harvesting is done either by handpicking or by machine stripping. When done by hand, cherries are picked off the tree or from the ground. Since only the ripe coffee cherries are picked, each tree can be picked numerous times during a season. The stripping method strips the tree of all its cherries at once and is done when most of its cherries are ripe. Most coffee is still picked by hand.
But the cherries are not what the coffee farmers are seeking. Rather, the prize is the twin coffee beans inside the coffee cherry. Sometimes there is only a single bean and when that happens, the bean is called a peaberry. The outside of the ripe coffee cherry is covered with thick skin. This skin can be red, or yellow or even brown and it encloses a layer of sugary, jelly-like flesh or pulp.
The coffee beans are under the pulp, covered by a thin protective layer called the parchment.
Inside the parchment there is yet another covering over the beans called the silver skin.
To be able to harvest the beans, the pulp, parchment and silver skin must be removed.