Is it possible to grow your own Coffee?
Well, yes, it is. Even in the UK, if you have a warm greenhouse or conservatory in which to keep your coffee plant.
Before learning how to grow your own coffee plant, let’s look at a few facts and a bit of historical background.
Coffee Plant Facts
- Did you know that coffee is the world’s most important commercial crop plant? So even more important than rice, a staple food for so many millions of people!
- Coffee is probably the world’s favourite drink.
- The coffee plant is a small tree, growing up to 7m high.
- Timber for coffee trees is used to make furniture and huts. It is a strong, dense wood.
- Coffee beans are actually the seeds of the coffee fruit.
- The coffee plant has scented flowers.
- There are approximately 125 species of Coffea or coffee.
- Originating from northeast tropical Africa, coffee trees are now grown in Asia and Australia and South America. See the map: the green areas are where coffee is a native plant; brown where it has been successfully introduced.
Coffee distribution map, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
A Bit of History about Coffee
There is an Ethiopian legend which tells the tale of how coffee was discovered. A goat herder named Kaldi noticed that his goats couldn’t sleep after eating the berries of the Coffea tree. Instead of sleeping they sprang around, full of energy.
Kaldi told the local abbot about his goats’ behaviour. The abbot made a drink with the berries and stayed awake through long hours of evening and night-time prayers. So impressed with how alert he felt, the abbot shared the drink with the other monks.
The tale of the wakeful beans spread…
By the 16th century, coffee was also being drunk in Arabia, Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. European travellers and merchants spread the roasted beans through the 16th and 17th centuries. It gained the Papal blessing, Pope Clement VIII even joked it should be baptized! He was an early caffeine addict then 😉
Coffee reached North America in the mid-17th century. By the late 18th century, Thomas Jefferson could claim that coffee was the favourite drink of the civilized world. It had certainly become a profitable food crop worldwide.
However, Coffea plants did not thrive in all the places where entrepreneurs tried to grow them. And there are problems today. For example, Arabica coffee is climate sensitive and will only grow in humid mountain forests. Climate change and deforestation mean Arabica coffee trees come under the Vulnerable extinction risk category.
How do You Grow Your Own Coffee Plant?
So, onto the question as to whether you can grow your own coffee plant.
Well, yes you can.
A coffee tree is surprisingly easy to grow if you can give it the right conditions. It needs to be kept frost free and not bright sunlight. Think morning sun not afternoon sun. As a houseplant, conservatory plant or greenhouse plant it is a delight. Glossy green leaves and jasmine scented white flowers and the ability to keep it small by pruning – what’s not to like?
Probably best to grow your own coffee tree in a pot; re-pot to a larger size as it grows. (As you would a citrus tree, for example). The soil should be neutral to slightly acidic; say pH6 – pH7. Water with rainwater; chlorinated tap water is not the coffee tree’s drink of choice.
During the warmer summer months, it will happily sit outside, but be sure to keep it watered. Remember this plant loves warm humid conditions.
Although not particularly prone to pests, your coffee tree may suffer form mealy bug or scale. Treat organically as you would any infestation.
If you keep your coffee bush inside (and possibly even if it goes outside in summer) you will need to hand pollinate the flowers if you want fruit. From the fruit come the beans, of course.
Now, this is not the point at which you think you can start your own coffee empire from your warm, damp, courtyard garden in Bristol. You will struggle to replicate the conditions for a decent crop of coffee beans.
However, you will almost certainly find your coffee tree will produce enough fruit, or berries, at around 5 years old. This is when you can have a go at producing a bit of coffee for yourself.
Once you have sufficient ripe berries (which can take 6-9 months), this is the technique:
- Strip the skins off
- Dry the seeds, aka beans, that are inside; usually two per fruit
- Roast in your oven. Carefully, so as not to burn them; try a low heat
- Grind them as you would bought coffee beans
- Brew your home-grown coffee and drink
It may not be the finest arabica coffee you’ve ever tasted – but it won’t be the worst either! One of the main problems with the “grow your own coffee” experiment is the issue with getting enough of the berries to ripen at the same time. It can take weeks to generate enough beans for a decent brew of coffee. Do pick and roast in small batches; the beans should keep until you have enough for elevenses.
Grow Your Own Coffee…interested?
It is some years since I’ve grown a coffee bush as a houseplant. That one I had as a cutting from a friend who had a plant nursery specialising in unusual house plants. But after writing this article for you, I’m very tempted to grow one again. The scent alone is worth growing a coffee plant for; I remember it as sweeter than the ‘houseplant jasmine’ you can buy in garden centres. And the bonus of “grow your own coffee” is likely to be as much fun now as it was then!
Ah yes, taking cuttings from plants. If you’d like a taste of how to take cuttings, pop over to our YouTube video. Or if you prefer the personal approach, ask about our Gardening Lessons where you can learn how to grow your own coffee trees, vegetables, flowers for a cutting garden and more.