Can You Grow Your Own Coffee in a Tropical Garden?

3
57
Man in straw hat looking at ripe berries on a coffee plant.

Most people know that coffee comes from the tropics. In fact, the latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn are often referred to as the world’s coffee belt. Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia are the top coffee producing countries, but the coffee plant can be grown in virtually any tropical country with adequate rainfall.

So why don’t we see coffee being grown in the home garden along with other tropical fruits and vegetables? Well, we do, but it’s not commonly planted because roasting coffee is a specialised process that requires expensive equipment, and the quantity of coffee beans that could be harvested in a home garden doesn’t make the investment in that equipment worthwhile.

Advertisement

Some people do grow, harvest, and roast their own coffee using cheaper improvised equipment but that’s done more as a niche hobby rather than a serious attempt to become self-sufficient in producing your own coffee. There’s a certain satisfaction in drinking a cup of coffee that you’ve grown and roasted yourself.

There are plenty of videos online about roasting coffee at home but for many home gardeners just getting to the harvest stage is the biggest challenge because often the coffee shrubs won’t produce the red berries that need to be sun-dried to produce the beans for roasting.

Map of the world's Coffee Belt.
Map of the world’s coffee belt showing the different types of coffee beans produced in different regions. Graphic: © Dimitrios Karamitros

That’s because most coffee is grown at elevations around 1,000 to 2,000 metres where temperatures are cooler, so whilst gardeners in tropical highlands should have no difficulty getting their coffee plants to produce berries, gardeners in the tropical lowlands will struggle – especially with the best Arabica varieties.

Some lowland gardeners have had limited success growing Robusta coffee, but that’s usually only when they get all the other growing conditions right (most importantly, well-drained and fertile soil, and a location in the garden where the plants receive filtered morning sun and afternoon shade).

If you don’t live in a highland region, coffee plants still make a worthwhile addition to the tropical garden because they are an attractive shrub and relatively resistant to pests and diseases.

However, if you are lucky enough to live in the more temperate tropical highlands or have been even luckier to get coffee plants to produce beans in a tropical lowland region, then you might want to consider investing in a home coffee roaster. They range in price from US$500 to US$2,000.

Ripe coffee beans on coffee plants with tropical highlands in the background.
Most coffee is grown in the cooler highland regions of the tropics. Image: © Gianfranco Vivi

For those who don’t produce enough beans to justify that expenditure, there are ways to roast beans on bakeware in an oven or on a pan on a stove, but that can be a somewhat hit and miss affair because the beans need to be turned frequently (most coffee roasters feature rotating roasting drums) otherwise they will burn. Roasting normally takes about 30-40 mins at a high temperature.

Before roasting the beans, the coffee berries need to be dried in the sun for 2-3 days. The berries are ready for picking when they have completely turned from green to red. That can take more than six months. They need to be firm when picked. Berries left on the plant too long will produce coffee that has a stale flavour.

If all that sounds like too much effort for the amount of coffee that your garden may be able to produce, and you can’t impress your friends with coffee that you’ve grown yourself, then maybe you can inspire them with your knowledge of the story of coffee, which goes back about 500 years.

As a beverage, the earliest known records of coffee’s existence come from Sufi monasteries in Yemen during the mid-1500s. It was primarily used as a stimulant, helping monks stay awake during religious ceremonies and rituals. It is believed that the coffee grown in Yemen originated from seeds from Ethiopia.

Woman looking at ripening beans on the branch of a coffee plant.
There’s a certain satisfaction with producing coffee beans in your own garden: Image: © Julian Bohorquez

As for how it became a beverage for public consumption, that’s unclear, but many suspect that merchants managed to see the value that coffee offered and opened shops to sell the delicious dark drink to anyone who could afford it. The endorsement of an Ottoman Sultan, who fell in love with the drink, resulted in coffee houses being established all around the Arabian Peninsula.

Coffee became an integral part of daily life, but due to coffee’s popularity among the masses, the Muslim clergy feared that it would cause more harm than good in society. Thus, they sought to ban the rising beverage, especially with religious worshippers.

However, such actions to ban coffee were for naught. Soon, riots started happening all over the region, protesting the closure of the coffee houses. After the Ottoman Sultan ordered the execution of a governor responsible for closing the coffee houses, they were soon back in business.

It didn’t take long for coffee to spread to other countries. Stories of people smuggling coffee beans outside of the Middle East became quite common, with some ending up in India, Malta, and Venice. And it was in the latter that coffee enjoyed another boost in popularity.

White flowers blossoming on a coffee plant.
The coffee plant is most attractive when it is in full flower. Image: © Byron Ortiz

At first, coffee was a new product being sold in stalls by streetside vendors in 1615. Its rising popularity in the city soon attracted the attention of the local clergy, who dubbed coffee a drink from hell, filled with Satan’s bitterness.

The intrigue and debate surrounding coffee became so divisive that Pope Clement VIII reportedly had to step in and give his take on what many clergy members viewed as a Satanic drink. To everyone’s surprise, the pope declared the drink safe, promoting it as a gift from heaven.

From then on, with the pope’s blessing, nothing could stop coffee from dominating the beverage market. In the next 30 years, hundreds of coffee houses opened throughout Europe.

The first to take advantage of coffee on a larger scale was the Dutch East India Company. Often considered to have been the world’s first multi-national trading company, the Dutch East India Company transported coffee seedlings to Java and Ceylon. By the early 1700s, the first commercial exports of Indonesian coffee from Java to the Netherlands were underway.

Dark skinned young woman drinking coffee from a mug in a tropical garden.
If you can’t grow your own coffee, then just enjoy the beverage and its association with the tropics. Image: © Lila Koan

The Dutch East India Company was not the only one to take advantage of coffee’s immense popularity, as the British East India Company also sought to get in on the trade. Soon there were coffee houses springing up all around England, with one in particular, the Queen’s Lane Coffee House in Oxford, claiming to be the oldest coffee shop still in existence to this day.

Other countries followed suit and tried to replicate their success in other parts of the world. Gabriel de Clieu, a French naval officer, introduced coffee to Martinique, a French-owned territory in the Caribbean. From there, coffee became immensely profitable in the Americas through the use of slave labour, a dark stain on coffee’s history.

It didn’t take long for coffee’s influence to spread throughout the New World, with Haiti and Mexico at one stage accounting for a majority of the world’s coffee production, until strikes and a revolution over poor working conditions resulted in a decline on coffee production.

It was around the mid-1800s that Brazil became the world’s largest coffee producer, but that was achieved only after clearing rainforests to make way for massive coffee plantations – another stain on coffee’s history.

Having a coffee plant in your garden might help to remind you of its fascinating history, but if you can’t succeed in having it produce coffee beans, then just enjoy the beauty of the coffee plant and head down to your local coffee shop for your favourite brew in the knowledge that others have done all the hard work in bringing one of the world’s favourite beverages from plantation to table.

Advertisement

3 COMMENTS

  1. Its like you read my mind You appear to know a lot about this like you wrote the book in it or something I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit but instead of that this is fantastic blog An excellent read I will certainly be back

  2. Your blog is a breath of fresh air in the often mundane world of online content. Your unique perspective and engaging writing style never fail to leave a lasting impression. Thank you for sharing your insights with us.

  3. I am not sure where youre getting your info but good topic I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more Thanks for magnificent info I was looking for this information for my mission

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here