Coffee tree, fabulous scented flowers… but beans are hard to get!

Coffee tree

Though growing a coffee tree for its beans is difficult, as an ornamental shrub it still works wonders to decorate a home or a veranda.

Coffee tree key facts

Botanical nameCoffea arabica
Common names – Coffee tree, Arabica coffee
FamilyRubiaceae

Type – shrub
Foliage – evergreen
Bearing – conical

Height – 6 feet (2 meters) indoors, up to 30 feet (9 meters) outdoors
Exposure – sun to part sun
Soil – rich, not chalky, well drained

Hardiness – not hardy (minimum 50°F or 12 °C)
Growth – slow
Flowering – summer, fall

Description of the coffee tree

Coffea arabica is native to East Africa, Ethiopia specifically. Since it’s used to sub-tropical climates, it can’t be planted outdoors in cooler European and American gardens. However, as an indoor plant, the coffee tree has more than one trump card to win over our hearts:

  • magnificent oval leaves, slightly wavy, shiny bright green in color;
  • white flowers shaped like stars, similar to those of Trachelospermum jasminoides, which release a heady, fabulous scent.

After about 4 years, fruit formation can occur. It produces bright red berries called cherries. Each one contains two coffee beans, which nearly every one is now familiar with.

Planting Coffea arabica

Coffee leaves and scented flowersTo make the most of your coffee tree, you must give your shrub everything it needs to grow well:

  • lots of light, but not direct sun;
  • air that isn’t too dry;
  • rich substrate, not chalky, moist but that drains well;
  • temperatures as constant as can be, without reaching extremes (65°-70°F or 18-20°C).

How to plant a coffee tree?

In order to meet all these requirements, your Coffea arabica, in temperate climates, should be planted in a pot and grown in a well-lit room such as an unheated greenhouse or a veranda. Select a large container with holes at the bottom for excess water to drain out of. Cover the holes with mesh wire, and spread a thick layer of clay pebbles to guarantee drainage.

For the substrate, prepare one third soil mix and two thirds heath. Throw in a few handfuls of perlite which will help retain moisture in the soil and at the same time help excess water drain away. Fill the pot or garden box with this mix, and settle your coffee tree atop it. Backfill around the root clump, pressing the soil down as you add it.

At the end, water for the first time.

Caring for a coffee tree

To keep your Coffea arabica happy, it’ll take regular care:

  • Potted care for the coffee treeIn summer and in winter, when the air is too dry, mist demineralized water on its leaves. This will increase moisture around the leaves, and since it’s pure, it won’t clog pores up. Note that if the tips of leaves turn black, it means the air isn’t humid enough.
  • Also make sure the substrate stays reasonably moist, without getting it soggy, though. Too much water will quickly lead to root rot. Keep in mind that in fall and winter, the plant won’t need as much water.
  • The coffee plant is very vulnerable to chlorosis, so feed it twice a month with fertilizer (mix it into the water), but only during the growing phase (spring, summer).
  • More or less every 2 years, repot the plant to renew nutrients in the substrate. As you do so, check on the roots: if you feel they need more room, change the pot to a slightly larger size.

Propagation

Two coffee tree cuttings becoming saplingsTo grow a new coffee tree, collect cuttings from semi-hardened stems at the end of summer.

It’s possible to use fresh seeds, too: sow them.

Don’t wait for too long: they must still be rather fresh or else they won’t germinate.

Diseases and pests on coffee

As is the case for most indoor plants, your coffee tree might undergo attacks by scale insects, red spider mite, and even perhaps aphids.

Harvest and keeping

Home-roasted coffee beansYou won’t get any fruits for the first 4 years of growth, at best. Ripening is a long process (6 to 12 months) and in cold climates, it’s pretty tricky. Nonetheless, if ever you do succeed in growing a few coffee cherries, go ahead and harvest them when they turn a bright red color. Inside each cherry, you’ll find two coffee beans; these you can roast either in a pan or in the kitchen oven. To keep your harvest, store it away from light and air, so that taste and flavor keep best.

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Red coffee beans by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work
Flowering coffee by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work
Potted and watered by Andrey and Lesya under Pixabay license
Pair of seedlings by Daniel Ramirez under Pixabay license
Roasting in the kitchen by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work