This morning I decided to hunker down and write about how I was 'wondering' how hard it is to grow, pick, roast and brew my own homegrown coffee. I've never really researched it or looked into it seriously as I know it's labor intensive, coffee beans are picky about where and how they are grown and if it were easy, everyone would be doing it, right?
So this morning I thought I'd do some QUICK research and just post about some of the things I found out. The problem is, like most of my post ideas, it ends up being much (much!) longer and in depth than I really intended it to be.
I just wanted some light coffee talk..
As I strive to make this as short as I can, remember, if I start to ramble... it's just the coffee talking.
"....if it were easy, everyone would be doing it, right?"
I knew coffee plants were available to be grown in pots, as I've seen them here and there mentioned in various places on the internet and sites. While I envisioned plants grown in pots producing enough beans for a cup of Joe, I found this instead;
"Coffee (Coffea arabica) is an evergreen and makes an attractive ornamental that can be grown in a container, although you may not get the pretty white flowers and cherries. The shiny green leaves are gorgeous, and the plant can be trimmed easily to keep it from turning into a tree. It likes good air flow, humidity and flickered light, requiring about the same attention as a philodendron."
Although I wouldn't mind a nice dark green ornamental plant for the home, I'm looking for actual beans... so what if I chose a plant that isn't just ornamental but actually produces beans?
Growing coffee isn’t hard. It’s the time-consuming extraction of the beans that defeats would-be backyard growers.
"The key to industrial production is having a processing system -- machines for depulping and removing the interior parchment around the seeds. Taking the pulp off a pound of cherries by hand can take half an hour."
So, I know it would be time consuming... I'm ok with that. So, what else do I need to know?
"As it turns out, coffee growers have found that the higher the altitude where the coffee is grown, the better the flavor of the coffee. The NCA reports that the better Arabica coffees are grown between 2,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level and that “optimal altitude varies with proximity to the equator.”
Coffee beans that are grown at altitudes over 4,000 square feet are graded with special designations including “Hard Bean,” “Strictly Hard Bean,” “Altura,” or “Mile High.” These “special” beans are generally more desirable (and unfortunately more expensive) because these beans take longer to mature but yield more consistent, richly flavored results than their counterparts grown at lower altitudes.
An article published by Scribbler’s Coffee puts it this way: “As growing elevation increases, a coffee’s flavor profile becomes more pronounced and distinctive… From the mild and sweet taste qualities of a low-grown Brazilian bean at 3,500 feet to the soaring floral notes of an Ethiopian grown above 6,000 feet, altitude heightens a coffee’s ability to deliver bigger varietal nuance and complexity.” The same coffee connoisseurs added, “Very low-elevation coffee regions impose harsher growing conditions on the coffee tree. Higher temperatures and less rainfall cause coffee to ripen more quickly resulting in beans with taste qualities that range from simple and bland to earthy or murky.”
I found an article featuring a community in California that does actually grow and harvest their own beans.
"Every season when the coffee bushes hidden in the shade of the Wattles Farm community garden in Hollywood start to produce cherries, one of the gardeners volunteers for the process of peeling the shells, removing the fleshy pulp along with the interior parchment, and washing and air-drying the tiny beans within.
“They’re very enthusiastic in the beginning and are still enthusiastic at the end because the coffee is very good, but they swear they’ll never do it again,” said Laurel Delp, one of the gardeners at Wattles.
She has helped pick the cherries and enjoyed the excellent brew that results but admits it’s far too much work for a small number of beans (actually seeds). Eating the cherries raw is an easier reward.
“It’s delicious," she said. "I was shocked. It’s a fruit, a sweet-tart taste. The flesh is really good.”
Tasting a coffee cherry changes your understanding coffee, said Jay Ruskey of the Good Land Organics farm in Goleta: “It’s my kid’s favorite fruit. Once you have one, it changes what you want when you drink coffee. Light roasted coffee means they don’t burn the sugar, so you can taste the cherry. The baseline of the cherry flavor helps you understand the importance of post-harvest and what they were trying to do.”
Seeing that if you are willing to plant, make sure it has the right soil, the right temperature, growing conditions, plenty of water, and are fine with taking the time to peel the sells and remove the fleshy pulp from the beans, then dry, roast and grind them... it sounds like it might actually be kind of fun to try.
At this point, my interest still piqued, I went a little deeper to find out just how long it would take to grow a plant to be mature enough to harvest beans.
"Frost sensitive seed grown plants take 6-8 years to produce fruit (but if you buy a plant from a nursery you’ll only have to wait about 3 years)."
I next ventured to find a good video for some visuals and step by step processes. I really thought this one did a great job of walking you through the process of making a cup of coffee completely from scratch.
Make a Cup of Coffee Starting From Scratch
In the end, I'm still interested in trying out this little coffee plant growing test... just for fun and just for me. Much in the same way I've grown avocado plants and pineapple plants; with absolutely no intent of growing anything seriously, but just to see what it does.
I jumped over to Amazon to see if they offered any plants... of course they do! Ha ha. I should have known.
But if you want to skip growing your own plant and waiting for 3-8 years for harvest, you can also buy green coffee beans - getting a jump start on the process and labor, but still roasting them yourself. One of many varieties I saw were these; El Salvador Everest SHG Washed Unroasted Green Coffee Beans (5 LB)
green unroasted coffee beans
Included in the search results, I saw this book listed; "The Little Coffee Know-It-All". I have no idea if he really knows it all or not... but I thought I'd include it here.
The Little Coffee Know-It-All: A Miscellany for growing, roasting, and brewing, uncompromising and unapologetic
In the video above, he roasts his beans in a pan over the stove. This is a pretty simple way to do it, but in another video I saw and liked, but wasn't as well done as the one I chose to post, they were using a hand cranked, outdoor roaster... which I loved, but I only found 1 manual, hand cranked outdoor roaster on Amazon, and it was not only expensive, but the only one available was from China. Hmmm. But there were other roasters available for home use (meaning... not hundreds and thousands of dollars) like this one;