Plant Profile by Cath Manuel
If you enjoy good coffee and are looking at growing more of your own produce then the coffee tree is perfect for any size home garden. There are many varieties of Coffea, but I think for the best coffee the arabica is a good choice.
Coffea arabica is an evergreen perennial growing up to 3 metres tall in the right conditions. It has beautiful glossy green leaves and can be also be grown in a pot as an indoor plant. For easy harvesting you can keep the tree trimmed to about 2 metres in height.
Our subtropical climate here inSE Queenslandhas the perfect growing conditions for the coffee as it prefers a warm environment to grow in, with limited frost.
Plant the coffee tree in a warm situation, either in full sun or part sun/shade. The leaves will be a deeper green colour when grown in part shade. As with all fruit trees, improve the soil with organic matter before planting and it’s also a good idea to do a pH test before planting. This will identify if your soil is too acidic or alkaline to then allow you to adjust this before planting your tree or shrub. After planting mulch well and water in with a diluted liquid fertiliser. Each year during Spring apply organic fertiliser and re-mulch well before the main growing season of late Spring and Summer.
Coffea arabica produces small white, fragrant flowers through late summer, followed by green berries and then they turn into bright red berries during Autumn. These red berries will fall from the tree when ripe, but it’s best to harvest these directly from the tree as they have a high germination rate and you would then notice little coffee seedlings growing all around the garden. Possibly a good thing if you want to you’re your own trees!! These trees have known to become a problem in some areas as birds enjoy the berries and then can spread the seeds over large distances. For this reason it’s a good idea to harvest as many of the red berries as you can and keep them for that nice cuppa rather than sharing with the birds.
We’ve harvested up to 3 kg of dark red berries from our first tree in its second year of growing. At times the trees have produced 2 crops per year, depending on the season’s weather. It’s best to harvest the berries when they’re a dark red colour as it’s easier to squeeze out the two green coffee beans from inside the red skin when they are fully ripened. When matured you can harvest many kilos of berries per year. 3kg of berries produces about 1kg of roasted beans.
To harvest the berries just place a large bucket or tub under the tree and gently remove them by hand. My boys find this a fun activity to help with as they’re always amazed at the quantities we pick.
Now the fun part begins !! The red berries are now soaked in water for 24 hours then strained and shelled by hand. You can either squeeze the green coffee beans out of the red shell by hand or by placing the red berries between 2 old tea towels and rolling over with a rolling pin. If using the later method you may need to check that all beans have been removed. The red shells can be placed into the compost bin and the green coffee beans will be prepared for drying.
Rinse the green beans in water, pat dry and then lay on a tin baking tray. Place the tray in the full sun for 5 – 7 days to sun dry the beans. (A dehydrator may work, but we have not tried this method) Keep an eye on the tray as birds may peck at the beans or if it rains the beans will become soggy and mouldy. Once the beans are fully dry they are to be stored in an air-tight container ready for roasting. If fully dry and stored correctly the beans will stay fresh for months.
To roast the beans there are many methods. This is the method we have used many times and have always had a good result and a delicious blend. You can roast the beans as needed, as they stay fresh while dried and green and taste better freshly roasted.
Using an electric 1000 watt popcorn machine (the air popping ones…we found one at a second hand store for $3.00) place in half a cup of green beans. Turn on the machine for approx. 8mins. During this period the beans will have a roasting process of a first and second cracking, which is a small popping or cracking sound. This produces an acrid burnt coffee smell (have room ventilated). During this roasting processALLthe beans must be moving constantly resulting in an even roast. Too many beans result in an uneven roast and hot, burnt spots on the beans. Do not overcrowd the machine. During the roasting it’s a good idea to observe the beans to ensure you have a consistent, dark colour. If you prefer a heavier, darker roast then heat the beans for slightly longer and if you prefer a lighter roast stick to about 8 minutes roasting. You may need to try a few roasts to get the blend you like.
The roasted beans are laid out on a tray to cool and must be cooled quickly. We find that laying the hot beans on the stainless bench on the sink cools them quite well. Beware, they are hot !!!
When completely cool you can store them for later use. The roasted beans must be left for 24 hours before grinding as they need to de-gas, which removes the acrid, bitter taste. They can then be put into a quality bur grinder and made into your own coffee. It really is delicious and such a beautiful way to share a good coffee with friends and family.
© cath manuel 2012