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Q: Growing Coffee in Northern California ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Growing Coffee in Northern California
Category: Science > Agriculture and Farming
Asked by: purrsian-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 07 Jul 2005 13:56 PDT
Expires: 06 Aug 2005 13:56 PDT
Question ID: 541027
My husband and I have given some thought to growing coffee plants,
just to see how well they "thrive" in the Northern California climate
and soil.
My first question is, can coffee be grown in the soils around the area
where grapes are grown throughout California.  The more important
question is who sells coffee plants in either
California or somewhere in the U.S.
Subject: Re: Growing Coffee in Northern California
Answered By: crabcakes-ga on 07 Jul 2005 19:45 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi Purrsian,

   I certainly  hate to give you discouraging news, but? While it
appears you and your husband may  be able to grow a few trees as a
hobby, I doubt if you will be successful in growing a large number of
trees. Through my research I have learned that coffee trees take up to
four years to produce beans, need a particular type of soil, a certain
elevation, a certain amount of sun and shade and rain. You can perhaps
simulate an environment for a small number of trees, particularly
Coffee Catura, but it?s unlikely an orchard would survive! You may not
get any beans, even if the trees are green and lush.

Coffee trees do best close to the equator, and elevations of 1800-3600
feet and 3600-6300. I don?t know where in northern California you
live, so I selected Eureka and San Francisco, CA as reference points.
Eureka?s elevation is 44 feet, and San Franciso?s is 19 feet!

?The coffee plant is a woody perennial evergreen dicotyledon that
belongs to the Rubiaceae family.  It has a main vertical trunk
(orthotropic) and primary, secondary, and tertiary horizontal branches
(plagiotropic).  Two main species of coffee are cultivated today. 
Coffea arabica known as Arabica coffee accounts for 75-80% of the
world's production.  Coffea canephora, known as Robusta coffee, is
more robust than the Arabica plants, but produces an inferior tasting
beverage with a higher caffeine content.  The coffee plant can grow to
heights of 10 meters if not pruned, but producing countries will
maintain the coffee at a height reasonable for easy harvesting.

The roots systems are heavily affected by the type of soil and the
mineral content of the soil.  To be thick and strong the root system
needs an extensive supply of nitrogen, calcium and magnesium. During
planting the main vertical roots are often clipped to promote growth
of the horizontal roots, which then have better access to water and
added nutrients in the top soil.?

The Optimal Climates and Altitude for Growing Coffee
1.?The subtropical regions, at high altitudes of 16-24 (Illy, 21). 
Rainy and dry seasons must be well defined, and altitude must be
between 1800-3600 feet.  These conditions result in one growing season
and one maturation season, usually in the coldest part of autumn. 
Mexico, Jamaica, the S. Paulo and Minas Gerais regions in Brazil, and
Zimbabwe are examples of areas with these climate conditions (Illy,
2.The equatorial regions at latitudes lower than 10 and altitudes of
3600-6300 feet (Illy, 21).  Frequent rainfall causes almost continuous
flowering, which results in two harvesting seasons.  The period of
highest rainfall determines the main harvesting period, while the
period of least rainfall determines the second harvest season. 
Artificial drying with mechanical dryers is performed on coffees grown
in this type of culture since rainfall is too frequent for patio
drying to occur.  Examples of countries which have this climate are
Kenya, Colombia, and Ethiopia (Illy, 21).
Robusta coffee is grown at much lower altitudes (sea level-3000 feet)
in an area 10 North and South of the equator (Illy, 22).  It is much
more tolerant to warm conditions than Arabica coffee.?

?Also known as mountain coffee oder arabica coffee, Arabica coffee is
now grown throughout Latin America, Central and East Africa, India,
and in some parts of Indonesia.  It is a type of coffee plant that can
only be grown in a tropical or subtropical climate.
As a coffee plant, coffea arabica has to be grown at a higher
elevation of 600 to 2000 meters.  Arabica coffee plants can grow up to
heights of 10 to 12 feet but need to be in a warm temperature. 
Although arabica coffee plants are able to survive the occasional cold
night, they will not be able to survive in a climate where
temperatures drop below 32 Fahrenheit for a long period of time.  The
best temperature range for coffea arabica to grow in is between 65 and
80 degrees Fahrenheit.  Vulnerable to pests, bad handling, and frosts,
there are two optimal conditions for Arabica coffee plants to grow in.

One scenario that is conducive to Arabica coffee growth is one in the
subtropical regions at a high altitude between 1800 and 3600 range. 
In an environment in which rainy and dry seasons are clearly defined,
Arabica coffee is able to thrive.  This is because this type of
environment creates conditions that result in one growing season and
one maturation season.  Examples of these climate conditions can be
found in Mexico, Jamaica, and Zimbabwe.

The other scenario that results in excellent Arabic coffee plant
growth can be found in equatorial regions where the plants are grown
at an altitude of 3600 to 6300 feet.  These conditions can be found in
countries like Kenya, Colombia, and Ethiopia.  These areas are marked
by frequent rainfall that allows for two harvesting seasons. 
Harvesting periods occur at times of main rainfall seasons.  However,
the frequent rainfall means that mechanical dryers need to be employed
in drying the coffee plants, as patio drying cannot occur in these
The Arabica coffee plant produces a small, bean sized fruit that
ripens from a green color to a dark red color.  Within this fruit are
two seeds that are coffee beans.  These coffee beans undergo a
processing procedure that results in the Arabica coffee that you can
buy at grocery stores or cafes.  By the time Arabica coffee beans have
made it to the store where coffee lovers are able to purchase it, they
have undergone a vigorous process that makes it the best tasting of
all of the different coffee types.  Arabica coffee has a wide tasting
range that will depend on its varieties.  Arabica coffee can have a
sweet-soft taste and it can also have a sharp-tangy taste.  Generally,
pure arabica blends are the best tasting coffee, a fact that is
reflected in its higher price.? (I don?t understand why these sites
contain ear pictures either!)

?The island of Hawaii is renowned for a number of things.  From its
beautiful beaches, gorgeous natural surroundings, and laid-back
atmosphere, Hawaii is considered America's tropical paradise.  It is
this tropical climate that allows Hawaii to be North America's primary
coffee growing region.  Hawaii is most well known for producing Kona
coffee, a specialty coffee that is constantly in high demand.  To
learn more about Kona coffee, you should check out the article titled
Kona Coffee.
Hawaii enjoys an excellent climate that is well suited for coffee
production.  Coffee trees grow on the slopes of the active Mauna Loa
volcano and the Hualalai Mountains of Hawaii.  The coffee plants that
are used in Hawaii tend to be exclusively of the coffea arabica
variety and the coffee produced in Hawaii is renowned for its unique
taste.  The rich volcanic soil greatly influences the characteristics
of Hawaiian grown coffee and the afternoon shade from tropical clouds
forms a natural canopy that protects the coffee plants from intense
sun.  The Hawaiian coffee plants also benefits from the frequent
island showers, which nourishes the plants with just the right amount
of rain.
Coffee production is an art form in Hawaii.  Young trees are planted
in black, volcanic soil that is very new.  Observers often remark that
they think that the farmers are planting coffee seedlings into rock
instead of soil.  Coffee farmers in Hawaii benefits from the unique
climate of the island that makes the coffee growing season
predictable.  Hawaiian coffee trees tend to bloom after the dry
winters and are harvested in the fall.?

Soil Content needed to grow coffee trees:
P (resin) - 15-30 g/cm3.
P (Mehlich 1): 10-20 ppm
SO4-S: 10-15 g/cm3.
K% CEC (pH 7.0): 10-15%
Ca% CEC (pH 7.0): 40-60%
Mg% CEC (pH 7.0): 10-15%
V%: 60-70%
CEC (pH 7.0): 7-10 meq/100 cm3.
B (hot water): 0.4-0.5 ppm.
B (0.05 N HCl): 1.0-1.2 ppm.
Cu (Mehlich 1): 2-3 ppm.
Zn (Mehlich 1): 4-7.

?Coffee plants may live on for 60 years. The tree, if left alone will
grow to a height of between 16 and 40 feet. In most coffee plantations
the trees are kept at a manageable six feet to get the best yield and
to make it easier to harvest.
The best growing conditions are in a temperature range of 65 degrees
Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Rainfall should be plentiful and
the weather should switch between heavy rainfall and sunshine to bring
the berries to full maturity. The type of soil is not too important
but good drainage is a must.?

?They do best in filtered sunlight, with night temperatures in the
lower to mid 60s and day temperatures of 70F or higher. Plant them in
any good commercial, fast draining potting soil . The soil should be
kept on the moist side, but never soggy.
Coffee plants will produce fruit without any fertilizing whatsoever,
but for best results and maximum yield, they should be fed every 2
weeks from March to October, and then monthly from November through
February. Use a soluble, all purpose (10-10-10)fertilizer.?

?The coffee tree's fruit does not all ripen at one time. In fact it
will have blossoms and berries in various stages of ripening. Only the
ripe berries can be picked. The berries cannot be picked when green
since they will not ripen once picked.
Once you have harvested sufficient beans to brew your first pot of
'home grown' coffee, you will have to roast them. There are many 'home
type' roasters available on the market, which do an excellent job of
evenly roasting your beans. Whether you are willing to go to the
expense of purchasing one of these is up to you.
It is possible to roast your own beans in the oven. This method will
tend to smoke up the house a bit, and the smell of the burned off
chaff will tend to linger in the house for quite some time. The amount
and size of beans, as well as your altitude will make a difference in
the roasting process, so this is a 'live and learn process.?

?Sun or Shade: What's the Difference?
Coffee lovers say shade coffee tastes better because of how it grows.
A traditional shade coffee farm resembles a forest, with several
layers of trees. These include fruit and hardwood trees, epiphytes
(plants that grow on top of trees, such as many orchids), and other
plants that often have value. Some are food; others may have health
benefits or medicinal value.?

?Typically, the geography of the coffee plant is in a tropical 25
degree latitude belt on both sides of the equator. The Arabica coffee
plant grows best at altitudes between 3000 and 6000 feet. Coffee
plants can be grown at lower altitude but attack from various
parasites cause problems which make low altitude cultivation hard.
Desirable temperature averages between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Arabica coffee plant will grow in hotter areas but is not well
suited for higher temperature. The Robusta coffee plant is typically
located in hotter and more humid areas at lower altitudes around 600
to 1500 feet. Frost will kill every variety of coffee plant known.
Thus, it limits the altitude and latitude at which this plant can
thrive. The coffee plant is susceptible to changes in temperature.
Temperature affects the color of the coffee leaf, the hotter the
lighter the color green. The longer periods of deep green, the
healthier the coffee plant.
Generally, the coffee growing area takes at least 75 inches of rain
fall per year. The rainfall should be spread over a 9 month period,
with about 2-3 months of only a few inches of rain. The dry spell is
needed to allow coffee buds, flowering, and new growth. Erosion aside,
the coffee plant will grow well with much more water so long as it
does not sit in water. In areas with less than 75 inches per year,
careful irrigation can provide adequate water for the coffee plant.
The soil where a coffee plant grows should be humus, generally porous,
and a slight tendency toward acid but more or less a neutral pH.
Coffee plants can grow in slightly alkaline soil. But too much acid or
alkaline will kill the coffee plant. Additionally, there is a
preference for pH which depends on the type of coffee plant. Mulching
the surface with grass, compost, or vegetable refuse is common ways to
help facilitate growth of the coffee plant. Preferably coffee plant
soil is heavy to work and not too loose and sandy. Very generally
speaking, the planting conditions of the coffee plant are similar as
for a camellia. The coffee plant doesn't like hard pack soil or
sitting in water for long periods of time. The coffee plant's subsoil
should stay moist but not soggy as to promote rot. The coffee plant's
roots breath and actually need some air. Thus, constant watering of
the coffee plant, or the coffee plant sitting in water, causes the
leaves to turn yellow, young shoots wilt, and the coffee tree dies.?
There is a map of  world coffee growing areas on this page.

?Coffee plants are actually trees, believe it or not. Most farmers
keep the trees rather short to make harvesting easier. The best of
these trees are grown in the shade of the South American rainforest.
Almost all the world's coffee is produced near the equator as coffee
does best in tropical environments. Coffee trees need quite a bit of
water, shade, and sun, but don't require good soil. They do produce
more coffee with fertilizer, which presents some environmental

?On the other hand, traditional harvesting is extremely labor
intensive -- it can take up to a week for a single farmer to hand-pick
enough coffee to fill a 100 pound bag with beans. Considering seven
million tons of coffee are produced each year, it takes a large number
of workers to pick enough fruit to keep up with demand.?

Weird fact to tell your friends:
Some people grow coffee plants indoors. These are usually grown for
their looks (tall, shiny green leaves) and sweet smelling flowers, and
because of this they often won't produce much -- if any -- coffee. It
takes four years before a coffee plant bears fruit, and people tend
not to keep their indoor plants that long anyhow. Weird eh??

Coffee trees make great houseplants!

Here is one person?s coffee-bean growing diary:

Buying coffee plants
Local Harvest
Heirloom Coffee Arabica suitable for growing indoors.

Coffee Arabica
?Arabica accounts for about 75% of the world coffee production and is
the coffee that specialty roasters search for. Coffea arabica is easy
to grow indoors, makes a very attractive houseplant and if it likes
you well enough it will even reward you with flowers and berries. A
six-foot plant can produce two to four pounds of coffee a year. Grow
in medium light, or filtered or indirect sunlight. Use a rich, acid
soil kept moderately moist. Peat moss in the potting mix will help
provide acid conditions. Ideal temperatures are between 60 and 85
degrees. Give the roots room to grow. Hardy to 28F.?

Coffea Catura
?Coffea catura is an outstanding, dwarf arabica variety, which is a
heavy bearer that does not require shading. Grows just 24" - 30" in
height. In addition to producing the finest coffee beans, Coffea
catura makes a splendid houseplant or, in warm climates, may be grown
outdoors as an ornamental. Does not tolerate frost. The lush foliage
is deep glossy green and noticeably ridged, giving the leaves an
embossed appearance. Extremely handsome! Zone 10-11.?

eBay often has coffee plants for sale

I hope this answer has supplied you with the information you were
seeking. If not, please request an Answer Clarification, before
rating. This will enable me to assist you further, if possible.

Regards, Crabcakes

Search terms

Growing coffee trees
Growing coffee + California
How to grow coffee plants
Buy + coffee plants
Soil + growing coffee trees
purrsian-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
This is great (however disappointing - sigh).  It was quite an
education for me, but a good way to establish a point of reference and
some thoughts on ways to finesse our own strategy to grow the plant as
an experiment.  Thanks.

Subject: Re: Growing Coffee in Northern California
From: crabcakes-ga on 08 Jul 2005 10:55 PDT
Thank you Purssian, for the stars and the tip! I did hate to deliver
discouraging news, but it could be fun to grow a few plants in the
Sincerely, Crabcakes
Subject: Re: Growing Coffee in Northern California
From: purrsian-ga on 08 Jul 2005 11:50 PDT
A brief aside.  Coincidentally, right after having discussions about
growing coffee with my husband, the next day my boss tells me that he
wants to grow coffee.  But, he's more of an agronomist than us - he
has his own grape orchard in Santa Cruz.  Maybe he can pull it off!!

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