Some people say that coffee is the best thing that has happened to humanity since sliced bread. I’m not disputing that although I think that I can live with chunks of bread but I can’t live without coffee. Be that as it may, one thing about coffee plants is that, apart from being a favorite morning pick-me-up, they can also grow indoors.
As a native of Ethiopia, the coffee plant quickly spread into the neighboring countries, and as the popularity of the brew grew worldwide, so did its cultivation. But you don’t have to have a farm to grow your own coffee. A few pots inside your house will do just fine. Read on to find out how to grow and care for this exotic of all plants.
Coffee Plant Varieties
In the wild and on farms, coffee plants grow into medium-sized trees. However, the last thing you’d want is a bushy tree crowding your living room or den. As we’ll see later in the care section, you can have control over the growth and spread of the plant to keep it manageable just the way you like it. You can choose from the various types of coffee plants below.
- Coffea canephora: known among coffee aficionados as robusta coffee. The name says it all. It’s a strong coffee with a harsh taste that bites in the back of the mouth. Grown mainly in sub-Saharan African countries, it’s not for everyone due to the high levels of caffeine in the beans.
- Coffea liberica: another robust species that comes from Central Africa. While it’s not as strong as Coffea canephora, the trees produce large quantities of coffee beans every year. So it’s more suitable for commercial production than in home gardens or personal consumption.
- Psychotria nervosa: while not part of the coffea family, it is often called wild coffee and grown for its ornamental qualities in the southern parts of the United States.
- Coffea arabica: known as ‘Nana’, this is the favorite coffee plant to grow indoors. It has small and compact foliage and doesn’t grow over a few feet when mature. The beans have a milder taste than other species and are packed with flavors.
How to Grow Coffee Plants Indoors
As a tropical plant mostly grown on elevated slopes, coffee plants need conditions as close to their original habitats as possible. So how can you turn your home or at least a corner of it into a copy of sub-Saharan African landscapes? You don’t have to. You just need to make sure you get the following right.
As with flowering plants, coffee plants need a lot of water and regular irrigation. Don’t let the soil go dry for a long period of time especially during the flowering cycle. That’s when the plant needs the most water. The moisture levels need to be even in the soil especially during the summer months. Don’t overwater it as the roots rot quickly and the plant will start shedding its leaves if left in soggy pots for long.
Of course, the fact that coffee plants thrive indoors is an indication of the quality and amount of light they need. It’s not direct sunlight that helps the plants grow. It’s partial shade and moderate light. In fact, you shouldn’t expose the plant to sunlight since that causes the leaves to brown and impacts the production and flavor of the beans. If the sun comes into the room, pull the curtains to protect the coffee plant.
Coffee plants need rich soil with a loose texture. Poor soil doesn’t suit the plant’s need for nutrition. Also, a limey soil will not hold the roots and ruin the flavor of the beans. Mix organic matter, compost, peat, and mulch with the soil to improve the pH. Make sure the pH is around 6 to 6.5. The pots have to have drainage holes at the bottom to prevent waterlogging.
Heat and Humidity
Like many other tropical plants that adapted well to life indoors, the coffee plant can grow and produce beans in temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures and hotter climates usually speed up the growth pace of the plants but that can have adverse effects on the quality and flavors of the beans themselves. If you’re growing your coffee plants for their beans, then maintain the temperature in the room not to exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit to allow the beans to grow and ripen at a slow pace.
Humidity is another important factor for the growth of the plant. The room or greenhouse should have a humidity level of 50 percent at least. If you happen to live in a dry area or can’t control the humidity in the room, try spraying the plant a few times a day to keep the leaves moist.
Coffee Plant Care
Admittedly it’s the humidity and temperature parts that many indoor coffee plant growers struggle to get right. It’s often a matter of trial and error until you find the exact temperatures and moisture that your plant prefers. You might have to go a few harvests before you settle on the magic formula of light, humidity, and heat that yields the most flavorful beans. Meantime you have to contend with other challenges. Challenges such as:
Unlike other plants you might grow for landscaping purposes, coffee plants actually produce beans. The quality and flavor of the beans can be severely impacted by pests such as aphids, mites, and mealybugs. As soon as you notice symptoms of infestation take steps to get rid of the pests. These symptoms include:
- White powdery residue on the plant.
- Tiny webs on the leaves where the bugs nest.
- Bugs crawling all over the plant and the soil in the pot.
Chemical pesticides should be a last resort. If the plant has already started producing beans, then use natural pesticides such as organic neem oil.
Even though most of us, joe lovers can’t imagine a morning with a cup of brew, the fact remains that the beans are the only edible part of the plant. Leaves, stalk, flowers, and roots are all toxic, not just for humans but for many animals. This includes your house pets such as dogs and cats as well as other animals including birds and horses.
Coffee plant poisoning causes nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. It can be fatal at times especially for small animals and might lead to seizures. You should seek medical help immediately if you ingest any part of the plant apart from the beans.
Seeds are the best way to grow coffee plants. You can either use seeds from a plant you’re growing or seek fresh seeds elsewhere if you want to explore different flavors. Some growers use cuttings to propagate the plant. A more complicated alternative is to grow the branches while still attached to the plant. This is called air layering and requires some skill and plenty of patience.
If you prefer cuttings, then cut a branch about 8 inches long in the first months of the summer. Get rid of all the leaves except the two top ones. Plant the branch in a soilless mixture and water it liberally. When the roots form, then you can move it to a pot with rich soil and organic matter.
Coffee plants grow to several feet in the wild. But as an indoor plant, you need to encourage the plant to grow horizontally rather than vertically. The best time to prune the plant is when it reaches a height of 2 feet. Trim the top of the branches to stop their growth. This triggers a lateral growth where smaller branches grow at the side and give the coffee tree a spherical shape. You can either use a pair of garden scissors or your fingers to snap off the branches. Don’t worry if you go too far with your pruning. The plant replaces the dead branches fast.
The coffee plant requires steady and moderate temperatures to grow and produce flavor-packed coffee beans. However, in the cold months when the temperatures drop below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to keep the plant in a greenhouse or in a room where it won’t get exposed to the elements. Such cold temperatures can be fatal to the plant.
The winter months also bring short days and decreased daylight. The lack of sunlight affects the plant’s growth. Move your potted coffee plant to a window where it gets some light during the day.