Gardening

Coffee: from tree to cup

20 January 2016

Coffee is the one plant I have been the most successful at growing. This is surprising, given that I live in a temperate climate.

My growing coffee obsession began in Costa Rica, where I successfully grew plants from coffee cherries. Later in Australia, I sourced a coffee seller from Northern New South Wales who was bringing his wares to Melbourne to sell. I bought home a tree but I was unprepared for the challenges of a Melbourne winter, and watered and chilled my plant to death. Finally, I found a dwarf coffee tree for sale at Masters hardware store. We moved to a house with a north-facing full-length window, and my coffee tree has been able to thrive indoors all-year long, year after year. After some time, my tree began growing flowers. After three patient years, the season’s flowers had fallen and I noticed the buds start to swell up. Oh my. My first coffee cherries were growing!

I waited and waited and the cherries grew and grew. Meanwhile, the coffee leaves faded from a vibrantly dark green to a veiny pale green. The cherries were sucking all the nutrients from the rest of the plant, just like a baby would in its mother’s belly.

Six long months later and my cherries were fully grown. One-by-one, their colours started changing from green to red to dark blood. By this stage, the cherries were ready for picking!

I squeezed the picked cherries to separate the flesh from the seed (bean). The seeds were coated in a very slippery membrane and had to bathe in a bowl of water for a week to ferment. I then removed them from their dirty sugary water and rinsed them in the sink, where the slimy coating slid right off. I lost one down the drain at this point. It was a very sad occasion. Note to self: sink was a bad idea.

The next step was to put the beans out to dry in the sun. We regularly have birdie visitors whom I don’t trust at all, so I left the beans on a plate indoors by our north-facing window. After one week, the beans were all dry and cracked. I was able to peel the skin off and I’d finally reached the raw coffee bean.

At last, it was roasting time. I decided to use a pan-fry method as I could watch the beans being roasted and attempt to not burn them. It was a slow procedure, and I cooked them and shook them on low heat for 10-20 minutes. At this stage, I lost another bean as it went flying under the dishwasher. I couldn’t believe it. We went fishing and did manage to recover the little guy, thankfully.

Drinking time! My 10 beans (I lost one down the drain earlier, remember) barely were enough to make half a cup of coffee, so I had to mix it with some Costa Rican beans that I had. My beans were much smaller than the Costa Rican beans. My Melbourne/Costa Rica grown cup of coffee was not too strong, but it was surprisingly drinkable, and not burnt or bitter tasting. So, I feel the whole, lengthy process was a complete success. I definitely have a lot more respect for coffee farmers now!

I already have new flowers on my coffee tree, and the leaves have reverted back to their gorgeous dark green. I wonder how my harvest will be next time? Who knows, maybe I’ll get 12 beans this year and make chocolate coated coffee beans for a sweet change.

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