Coffee trees, as they are commonly known, are actually named coffea trees. Coffea trees have been around since the 11th century, although the evidence is sketchy. History suggests that coffea trees were first discovered in Ethiopia. With it first being drunk in the conventional way, as we know it today, in the 15th century.
There are approximately more that 125 species of coffee trees around the world. The most commonly used to produce coffee being Arabica, Robusta and Liberica. Most coffee that reaches your cup will be one of those or a mixture of two, typically. The brown coffee beans used to make drinking coffee, come from cherries that grow on coffee trees.
Coffee beans are first coffee cherries, before they are picked, processed and roasted for drinking. Coffee trees bloom beautiful white flowers just before cherries start to appear on the tree. Like most fruit these cherries grow and ripen over time. Inside the cherries are pit like seeds.
In coffee production the cherries are picked from the tree, then have their skin removed. There are a few different ways to do so and different coffee farmers use different techniques. However, the most common method is to pulp the cherries and then separate the seeds and fruit pulp from one another. The seeds are then dried and the thin outer layer of the seeds are also removed, which you will hear referred to as removing the parchment envelope. Seeds that are blemished are sometimes polished. The seeds are also, usually, sorted into their variants of size and weight. At this stage the seeds are what we know as green coffee beans. The green coffee beans are then roasted, giving the brown coffee bean, now famous all over the world.
For a more in-depth look at the processing of coffee beans, the National Coffee Association have all you could want to know and more.
Sourcing coffee plant seeds
The green coffee bean inside the cherries are the trees seed, which is used to birth new coffee plants. If intending to start growing a coffee plant from scratch. The ideal way to begin is to first pick fresh coffee cherries, from the strain of coffee tree you wish to grow.
If you are unable to pop out and pick fresh coffee cherries, there are a few alternatives. Purchase organic green coffee beans, which are usually available at local organic stores. You can also purchase them online, if you do not have an organic store that stocks organic green coffee beans, in your neighborhood.
Be mindful that the fresher the beans the better the chances of success. You will need to germinate multiple seeds, to get one coffee plant.
Growing coffee plants from seed
Freshly Picked Coffee Cherries
- Place cherries in a small container and soak in water until the fruit and seeds separate
- Keep close watch as bacteria can build up and ruin the possibility of getting roots from the seeds
- Remove seeds from pulp carefully
- Air dry seeds on mesh type mat, preferably
- Soak the seeds in water overnight and then plant in soil (as described below)
Green Coffee Beans
- Soak in water for at least 24 hours
- Fill small propagation pots with soil
- Place seeds in the middle of the pots (flat side down)
- Cover with more soil and water lightly to dampen the soil
- Place in indirect sunlight while germinating/propagating and growing seedling
- See below for soil, fertiliser etc
Growing coffee plants indoors
Whether growing coffee plants from coffee cherries or shop bought organic green coffee beans, the growing preferences, and conditions are relatively the same. Controlled conditions are essential to successfully growing coffee plants indoors. Particularly when growing in colder climates. It is preferable to use a greenhouse, along with grow lights and a heat mat, for optimal growth. Although a heat mat and grow lights will also do just fine.
- Coffee seeds take long to form roots (sometimes 2-4 months)
- Try not to germinate in cold months, unless using heat mat and greenhouse
- Soil preference – low pH, high nitrogen and some minerals
- Treat soil as soon as the seed sprouts its stem for best results
- Maintain soil preference throughout growth by fertilising in warmer months leaving 3 months between each treatment
- Usually 3-4 years before coffee plants produce coffee beans/cherries, when grown from seed
- Typically able to harvest crop once a year
- Flowers need to be pollinated, aim to grow at least 3 coffee plants for natural pollination, although you can also do this by hand.
- If you intend to produce coffee from the coffee plants you are growing you will certainly need multiple coffee plants.