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December 9, 2015

Growing Coffee in Florida

A while ago Publix used to sell little Angel Trees. I always liked to ruffle through these cute puppies that were just begging to take them home. They were always some unusual and exotic seedlings; some died, some survived. Among few of these floral treasures was a little coffee tree, not more than a few inches tall. Following the directions on the label I transplanted it to the larger pot, and that was mostly the extent of my care for this plant. The next winter it almost froze to death in my unheated green house.

Surprisingly, it grew new shoots from the root and became even prettier and bushier than before. Inspired by such unexpected horticultural success, I ordered three more coffee plants from ebay. At that time Publix was not selling coffee seedlings anymore.

Time has passed, and short five years later I have a mini coffee forest that's not only a pleasure to the eye, but also a producer of some fine Arabica.

Even though coffee is a tropical plant, it does not like Florida's radioactive summer sun, so it must be planted in a semi-shade environment. I planted mine right next to the 6 foot wooden fence, in large containers, close to each other. Thinking back, I should have cut the bottoms of the containers to allow for root growth. And maybe I will venture to do that this coming spring, although this will not be an easy task: these containers are extremely heavy. The reason for planting them in containers was that coffee does not like soggy soil either. In the summer, even with all the sand, water can stand close to the surface, so coffee roots will rot. It might sound like coffee is a picky plant, but actually it is not. Just provide a semi-shaded corner or side of the fence, protect it from direct sun and wind, and don't let it sit with wet feet. Give it some fertilizer, water when soil surface becomes dry, and that's just about it.

They started fruiting the third year, but only produced a few beans. This year, however I am having a full harvest. Coffee beans cover the branches just like berries, prolifically, but not evenly ripening. It is a chore to keep picking and processing the harvest. I came to appreciate coffee that comes from Brazil or other countries for relatively cheap price compared to the labor needed to make a final product.

After picking ripe beans (they will be soft and dark red in color), the beans need to be soaked at least 24 hours in tepid water. The water should start bubbling - that's when you know coffee had fermented. I have no idea whether commercial processing involves fermentation, but that's something I found on YouTube when I was searching for some information on how to shell the beans. It is practically impossible to shell them without soaking.

This is my third harvest this season. After shelling and drying this amount will reduce to about one fourth in volume. Actually, the outer skin is soft and juicy, and sweet to the taste. But I don't know whether it's edible, so I err on the side of caution.

After soaking, you have to squeeze coffee bean from the pulp and leave it to dry on the counter, mixing once a day. The drying process takes about a week.

The fun part, of course, is making coffee from your own harvest. But before that coffee beans need to be roasted. I tried this once, and have to admit that this will be a skill requiring mastering. I messed up my first batch - did not use cast iron skillet, just used the regular one, and I burned it a bit too much. But still, how sweet are the fruits of one's labor. I thoroughly enjoyed my organic, hand grown cup of coffee.

At the end of this season  I estimate I'll have about one to two pounds of dry coffee beans from my four trees. Using simple math, if your family consumes 20 pounds of coffee per year, then you need 40 trees: if I get 2 pounds from 4 trees, then to get 20 pounds I need 4 times 10 = 40 coffee trees. This might sound like a lot, but if you have some room, maybe a fence around the property, or other shaded area, you might be able to squeeze them in. The other consideration is a large number of blankets to cover them in the winter when it freezes. It takes me three comforters to cover my four coffee trees : they are literally butt to butt next to each other. So one comforter goes on the top, and the other two to wrap around the bunch. They absolutely need to be covered securely; Christmas lights will not be sufficient. 

All in all, coffee is pretty easy to grow. Not as easy as papaya :) or other natives, but not too difficult either. Some labor covering them on frost nights, and harvesting and processing the beans - otherwise a pretty and useful plant. Consider it.


  1. Your post reminds me of the documentary, "A Small Section of the World" about a group of women in Costa Rica who grow coffee (free on Amazon Prime). Very interesting. I didn't think we could grow coffee in central FL.

    1. Inspiring movie! Thanks for the suggestion.
      Maybe we should start a coffee growing association in Central Florida, wouldn't that be fun.

  2. Hi are you still growing coffee trees?

  3. Yes I do! They are not that hard to grow. What's hard is processing the bean, I mean without a special roaster. I'm still on the fence paying over $100 for the roaster because I don't get that many beans. If I got serious about it and had something like 20 trees, that would be a worthy investment.



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