When ready to be harvested, the fruit on the coffee tree turns a dark cherry colour - this is usually about 8 to 9 months after flowering has taken place. The time of harvest obviously varies according to the position in the world but usually there is only one harvest per year. North of the equator, the harvest takes place between September and March. South of the equator, the harvest usually takes place in April and May. Sometimes, however, it lasts until August. In some countries where the division between the wet and dry seasons is not clear (eg Kenya and Colombia) there may be two flowerings a year. In which case a main and secondary crop often occurs. Countries on the equator are able to harvest fruit all year round.

Ripe fruits can be plucked by hand, or picked with small rakes, or else brought down to earth with poles: the first two systems are used where low-cost labour is available, and they are more selective; the pole system is quicker, but less careful; and calls for further operations of berry-cleaning. Where the terrain allows it, harvesting can today be effected with special automatic machines - a single machine can do the work of 100 men, gathering 95% of the fruit in one go. Using a machine is cheaper but means that the ripe cherries are not picked out from the others - if there are any green cherries mixed in with the others then the coffee will taste more bitter; if there are any over-ripe cherries then the final product is likely to have an unpleasant, acrid taste. The machine uses a series of multiple vibrating rods which, when introduced into the canopy by a special moving machines, causes the ripe berries to fall.

Most coffee, however, is picked by hand by either selective or strip picking. Selective picking involves the pickers making several passes among the coffee trees at intervals of about 10 days to ensure that only the fully ripe beans are taken. Strip picking means the entire crop is picked in just one pass. Selective picking is, obviously, more expensive and is usually only used for arabica beans. It does, however, produce the best results. During the harvest season, whole families turn out and all the hands - men, women and children - join in the work. The Colonos, as the coffee pickers are called in Brazil, carefully select only the fully ripened fruit for a second, third, or fourth visit over the four to six month harvest season.

On an average coffee farm, the pickers may gather between 100 and 200 pounds of coffee cherries per day. Of this total weight only 20 percent is coffee bean.