Almost anyone who really gets into coffee as a hobby, or just anyone who has a healthy obsession with the world’s finest caffeine source, will wonder at some point if they can grow their own coffee. After all, maintaining a coffee habit can get expensive, and surely having your own, homegrown supply would be a worthwhile endeavor.
Plus, how cool would it be to have your own coffee growing in the garden? Even if you weren’t using it to produce coffee for you to drink, the sight of your own coffee plant would be sure to perk you up every morning. So, can it be done? Can one of those coffee beans in your pantry be planted and grown?
Can You Grow a Coffee Plant From a Roasted Coffee Bean?
The short answer is no, you can’t grow a coffee plant from a roasted coffee bean. While it’s true that the coffee bean is, in fact, the seed of the coffee tree, it’s gone through a lot of processing before it’s even roasted, and the roasting is effectively cooking the bean at incredibly high temperatures.
For a more detailed explanation of why this is the case, as well as some brief instruction on how to actually grow a coffee tree, keep reading.
What are Coffee Beans?
The brown, aromatic beans you grind up for your coffee are, in fact, the seeds of the coffee tree. You see, coffee trees produce small red fruits, often called coffee cherries. The flesh of the fruit can actually be dried and used to make a highly caffeinated tea popular in the Middle East and Latin America.
The seed of this fruit is extracted- either by using water to remove the skin and pulp or by drying the whole fruit and then peeling off the skin and pulp. Then, the seeds are left to dry in the sun until the paper-like skin around them separates can can be removed easily. What’s left is a very hard, pale green to greenish-brown bean shaped seed.
This green coffee is then shipped to a roaster who prepares it for consumption by roasting it. Even before it’s roasting, the removal of the fruit and the drying process makes it somewhat unlikely that the seed is still viable, but roasting removes all doubt.
Coffee beans are roasting at very high temperatures. Once the beans themselves hit an internal temperature of about 393 degrees they “crack.” Expanding water vapor and other gases inside the bean force the bean itself to expand- it sounds a lot like popcorn popping. This process stops when they hit about 436 degrees, which is the minimum temp for roasted coffee. Any cooler and it won’t taste good enough to drink.
The combination of incredibly high heat and the cracking of the physical structure of the bean eliminates any chance that the seed could remain viable and be used to grow a coffee tree.
How to Grow a Coffee Tree
You can still grow a coffee tree, you just can’t use roasted beans to do it.
Almost all of the world’s coffee is grown in Africa, Central and South America, and southern Asia. You’d think this means you need a hot, humid climate to grow coffee, but that’s not entirely true. Much of the coffee (usually the most expensive, highly sought after coffee) is grown at high altitude in the mountains where the weather is cooler.
In fact, coffee is native to Ethiopia, where there are still dozens of varieties of wild coffee growing. Ethiopia sits on a vast plateau, with high elevations and fairly cool weather.
The weather is cool, though, not cold. Coffee doesn’t handle freezing temperatures well. They also don’t like direct sunlight (“shade-grown” coffee is considered superior for a reason), and they do need some humidity.
You can actually grow a coffee plant indoors; they’re very attractive houseplants and the controlled environment inside your home will make it easier to provide proper growing conditions.
Growing a Coffee Plant Indoors
Coffee plants like moist, but well-drained soil. You’ll want a large planter for it so there’s plenty of room for the roots to grow. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, and this will provide plenty of humidity for the plant.
Keep it in a room that gets lots of natural light but don’t place it directly in front of the window, and make sure it’s not exposed to a draft in the winter. Once you have a pot and spot picked out, you’ll need a seed.
That’s the hard part. Several companies sell green coffee beans to home roasting enthusiasts, but these aren’t suitable for planting. They’ve been dried and stripped of much of the nutrients the embryo needs to grow. What you really need is a fresh seed or a whole coffee cherry; someone might be willing to sell one to you. Or, if you take a trip to Puerto Rico or Hawaii, you can likely find some if you tour a coffee plantation.
Growing Coffee from a Green Coffee Bean
If you can’t get a fresh seed or fruit, there’s a chance you’ll be able to grow a plant from a green coffee bean. Buy a pound or two and soak them in pure, filtered water until you see them sprout- only a small handful of them will sprout, as the processing they undergo usually removed the embryo.
From there you can plant them in moist soil, and give them a bit of water every day.
Finding Coffee Saplings
Coffee plants are actually a popular ornamental houseplant, and you can often find small saplings and seedlings sold at your local nursery or even major retailers that have a garden section. The tricky part is that they often aren’t marked as coffee plants, so it’s helpful to do some research on your own so you can identify them.
Will I Be Able to Harvest Coffee from My Plants?
Yes and no. First, coffee plants develop slowly, so it will take a couple of years, at least, before your plants produce any fruit.
Second, if you’re growing your plants indoors, you’ll have to hand-pollinate the flowers to make sure they produce fruit.
Finally, if you do manage to harvest fruit from your coffee plant, you’ll need to learn how to ferment, dry and process the beans before your roast them. Of course, if you’re growing your own coffee, learning that process is definitely worth your time.
While you can’t grow a coffee plant from a roasted coffee bean, it is absolutely possible to grow a coffee plant at home if you have a viable seed. They make beautiful houseplants and are popular as an ornamental, but if you’re able to grow it outside or pollinate the flowers yourself you can harvest your own coffee beans and brew up a pot of truly local coffee.