By Guest Author Michael Shewmake.
Can you grow your own coffee beans at home? Absolutely — it’s just a question of conditions and commitment.
Serious coffee drinkers think nothing of grinding fresh, whole coffee beans every time they brew. Some people like an even deeper level of commitment by roasting their own beans at home too. But for total commitment to the process from bean to cup, nothing beats actually growing your own coffee at home.
Ideal growing conditions for Arabica coffee plants
Under very specific conditions, and only in certain parts of the world, coffee plants (Coffea arabica) can grow in a home garden. To thrive outdoors year-round, coffee plants need a moderate, frost-free environment in a narrow temperature range of 64°–70°F (18°C–21°C). It can tolerate mean annual temperatures up to roughly 73°F (24°C) (Climate.gov).
C. arabica requires a relatively frost-free environment similar to papaya. Mature trees can be expected to withstand short periods of 30° F, although new shoots may not be produced readily afterward. Coffee likes moist conditions and does not tolerate hot, dry winds. For these reasons, much of the world’s coffee is grown under shade trees which also protect against the overhead tropical sun. University of California Cooperative Extension
Consider the weather conditions in the coffee belt – countries like Mexico, Ethiopia, Columbia, and Indonesia. Arabica coffee plants prefer high altitudes in the zones between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. In the United States, some high-altitude regions in Hawaii meet these conditions. In most other states, the temperatures are too volatile for Arabica coffee plants to thrive outdoors year-round.
How to grow Arabica coffee indoors
The good news is that you can create the ideal growing conditions for an Arabica coffee plant indoors. It’s not simply the controlled temperature, but also the proper light and humidity which determine if the coffee plant thrives. And the coffee plant is a beauty: dark glossy leaves and blossoms with a scent many liken to that of jasmine. Plus, it makes a great conversation piece.
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But patience is key in growing an Arabica coffee plant because it may take two to five years before your coffee plant flowers and brings forth its first coffee “cherries” (the fruit that contains the coffee bean).
To start coffee plants from seed, you’ll need to order some green coffee beans from the most recent harvest. After soaking your green coffee beans in water overnight, you may see that some of them start to germinate (you’ll notice a small white protrusion from one end of the seed). Keep them damp and wait for them to sprout. You’ll need patience — initial germination to actual sprout can take about two months, and many of the germinated seeds may not survive.
You can also start your plants from ripe coffee cherries which yields better results. But coffee cherries can be hard to come by unless you live in a coffee growing region.
For most people, it’s easiest to purchase a young coffee plant from a nursery. When the plant reaches about six inches tall, repot it into a large container. In the case of multiple seedlings, soak them and separate them gently before putting each in its own pot. Coffee plants like to root deeply so give them plenty of room.
The ideal soil for coffee plants
Arabica coffee plants like slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6 to 6.5 and a high nitrogen content. Many horticulturalists recommend enriching the soil with organic matter such as dried blood, bone meal, and manure. It’s also important that the soil drains very easily.
Coffee plants also benefit from iron in the soil (frequently associated with low pH-loving plants). Coffee plants which grow on mountains formed of volcanic lava rock in Hawaii, for instance, get this benefit naturally. Adding some volcanic rock dust to your soil mix will provide some iron.
How much water do coffee plants need?
Just the right amount of water is critical. Coffee’s native habitat is under trees in temperate regions at high altitudes. That indicates they’ll need consistent water, but will not like “wet feet” – the soil should remain moist but never saturated. Adding some peat moss will help your soil to both retain water and maintain a low pH, and compost also helps with water retention and nutrients. To ensure a porous soil, mix in some coarse sand or basalt rock dust.
Make sure to saturate the soil completely, and make sure the water drains thoroughy from the pot. Indoors, one deep watering a week should be all the plant needs.
But there is no substitute for being in tune with your plant. The weather, humidity, season, and age of the plant, even indoors, can all affect how much water it needs. The size of the container matters too. If you feel your coffee plant needs frequent watering, it may be because the roots have outgrown the container, so it will need to be repotted to a larger container.
Find the right light
Coffee plants like light, but not direct sunlight. Grown outdoors, they thrive in the shade under a canopy of trees. Try to mimic these conditions indoors by choosing a bright spot with diffused light, preferably near a window that doesn’t get a lot of direct sunlight. Grow lights may help your coffee plants to thrive in the darker months of winter.
Prune your coffee plant
Left on its own in nature, the Arabica coffee plant can grow as tall as 40 feet. But they adapt easily to life in a pot, and can grow into a full and productive bush. Keep the size manageable by pruning.
Under ideal outdoor growing conditions, a well-tended Arabica coffee plant can eventually produce from 2,000 to 4,000 cherries per harvest or about 4.5 to 9 pounds. There are two beans per cherry, and it takes about 5 pounds of cherries to yield a pound of beans. When you do the math, you’ll see that the serious coffee drinker would need a lot of Arabica coffee plants to become self-sufficient.
One indoor plant may not even produce enough beans to brew 1 pot of coffee. But growing your own coffee is really about being a part of the process. It will immeasurably deepen your appreciation of the time and effort that go into a cup of coffee, and deepen your enjoyment of coffee itself, no matter where the beans are grown.
Michael Shewmake started Atlas Coffee Club to highlight and celebrate the world of coffee. From Papua New Guinea to Peru, Burundi to Brazil, Michael is passionate about connecting coffee consumers to coffee countries around the globe, making a global coffee experience feel local. He also doesn’t dislike the advantages of running a coffee business, i.e. it being normal to drink 5+ cups a day.