There are many good reasons to grow a coffee plant, even if you’ve never grown anything. It’s a beginner-friendly plant that could well prove to be the gateway to a new hobby. Once grown, its shiny, leafy green appearance perfectly compliments indoor settings. Thirdly, and best of all, you will eventually get some fresh homegrown coffee out of it. Understandably, if you’re new to gardening and horticulture, you might still be skeptical. But in this article, we’ll outline everything you need to know about coffee plants. This article will give you more than enough information to grow your pot of coffee greens, from its history to the correct way to grow them, and the things you need to keep in mind.
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A Brief History of Coffee Plants
There are many wild stories about where and how the coffee plant originated. It is unknown how exactly coffee was discovered, but there is good evidence to suggest that Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. But it could be Yemen or one of its neighboring countries.
The most widely told story about the origins of coffee plants presents a narrative about an Ethiopian goatherd called Kaldi. Kaldi once happened to notice that his goats would become hyperactive after eating the berries of a particular plant. To investigate, he took the fruits of this shrub to the nearest monastery, but the monks there were convinced that these beans were the work of the devil. They then threw the beans into a fire but were roused by its aroma. They decided to give coffee another chance. The rest, as they say, is history.
Regardless of the nature of coffee’s humble beginnings, the coffee industry is a burgeoning one today. It’s grown in over 70 countries worldwide, and many of these nations are concentrated in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The industry is worth more than $100 billion across the globe, making coffee one of the most valuable commodities out there.
Learn more about the coffee fruit in “Everything You Need to Know About Coffee Fruit (Cascara)“.
An Introduction to Coffee Plants
Given that coffee is so popular and grown across the world, many different types of coffee plants have emerged. But many of these closely resemble each other, so much so that there aren’t official distinctions for many of them. Coffee plants belong to the Rubiaceae family, which happens to be one of the most diverse families in the plant kingdom with over 6,500 different species. Besides coffee, these plants are the sources of dyes, furniture, medicines, etc.
Even within the coffea genus, which is the source of coffee in the Rubiaceae family, there are over 103 unique species spread across seven continents. But only two are widely grown. The first, called coffea arabica, produces Arabica coffee, while the second, coffea canephora, sprouts Robusta beans. Of these, the former makes up about 70% of all coffee grown in the world due to its better quality in terms of flavors, aromas, and the conditions it has been grown in. However, it is the Robusta beans that contain more caffeine, almost double that of arabica.
Find out more on the Arabica and Robusta bean by checking out our piece “What’s the Difference Between Arabica vs Robusta Coffee Beans“.
Growing a Coffee Plant at Home
Now that you know enough about coffee, it’s time to get to the meat of the matter. To grow your coffee plant at home, you’re going to need some beans. There are two ways you can procure these. You can buy some plucked coffee cherries and extract the seeds from them, or you could find a green coffee supplier and purchase freshly processed beans from them. Ensure that your green beans are as fresh as possible, as older beans take longer to germinate. Also, keep in mind that the commercial coffee available in supermarkets will not yield plants or flowers due to the treatment they have undergone.
The First Steps: Extracting Seeds and Germination
If you bought coffee cherries, crush them with your bare hands till you see the seeds. These seeds are covered by silver sheaths, which need to be discarded. Once done, soak the pulp in warm water that is around 30* Celsius. Even if you bought green seeds, they need to be soaked for 24 hours to pre-germinate them. Maintain the water temperature at this level by using a thermos, but you could also utilize the heat from your radiator. If you see any seeds floating on the surface of the water, that’s a good sign they are defective and must be thrown away.
Though green beans are guaranteed to be either Arabica or Robusta, you might come across a third type of seed within your coffee cherries. These are called peaberries. They are rounder and have the flavor of two seeds packed into one. This is because a peaberry carrying cherry will contain only one seed, whereas you will find two seeds of either Arabica or Robusta per bean. Peaberries are thought to be of higher quality than their alternatives but require many additional steps to process adequately. As such, they are not suitable for plantation at home.
Find out more on peaberries with our COFFEE INSPECTOR guide “Coffee Inspector: Peaberry Coffee (Caracolillo)“.
Once the seeds have been extracted and soaked for 24 hours, get some sand, sow the seeds, and cover the top with a 1cm layer of sand. Water the seeds, but only pour enough to dampen the sand. Overwatering will prevent the seeds from germinating. Make sure that the sand and beans receive adequate sunlight, as well as some shade. The seeds should take a couple of months to germinate, and you’ll see tiny stems and leaves to signal its completion.
Make sure you also check out “What is Green Coffee & How to Make it?” for more info on the green coffee explained.
Caring For Your Potted Plants
Once you have potted your plants, there are several things one needs to know to keep their greens healthy and ensure steady growth. Besides adequate sunlight, coffee plants need highly humid conditions that can be provided by a humidifier.
They also require a lot of watering, but not to the point of being waterlogged. As before, pour only the amount of water needed to dampen the soil. As your plant grows, it will require less water. Similarly, water your plants less in winter, and the most between spring and autumn.
One major thing that you might need to protect your plant from is an insect infestation. The risk is relatively low unless you live in hot climates, but insects are pests (quite literally) that every budding gardener must learn to deal with. There are two types of insects that generally feed on coffee plants: scale insects and spider mites. These insects can turn the leaves of coffee brown and yellow, respectively. To fight against the former, apply a mixture of soap, water, and alcohol until the leaves look healthy again. For the latter, you can purchase specific products to eradicate spider mites, or water your leaves heavily to drive them away.
It is important to remember that the leaf discoloration could have been caused by other reasons, such as an inappropriate location or deficiency in certain essential nutrients. Try moving your plants or adding some fertilizer if you don’t notice any insects initially.
If you take the necessary precautions, you should see fresh coffee cherries sprouting within 3 to 4 years of planting the seed. There is nothing quite like drinking coffee made from beans grown with your hard labor. Even if you’ve never gardened before, this article has all the information you need to get started and experience this joy yourself.
Thank you for reading! Let us know in the comments below if you just learned about coffee fruit and coffee plant. Did you have an idea of where coffee originates from? Be sure to check out similar articles to brew up interest like “Tips to Make Cowboy Coffee with Ease” or even “12 Essentials to Make Your Perfect Cup of Coffee at Home“.
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