Houseplants 101 – Coffee Arabica

I love coffee. I was intrigued when I saw that you could grow coffee plants indoors, so I ordered some for the shop. Honestly I didn’t do any research beforehand so I really had no idea what to expect when they arrived. They were definitely not the flashiest plants in my delivery, but they do have lush, dark green leaves that are a bit glossy and the plant itself has a decent shape and structure, so I was happy that I had ordered them and I feel they would be a great addition to any collection.

What I did learn right off the bat (the hard way) is that the larger plant that I ordered needs a fairly decent amount of water to keep it happy. I know this because it showed me what it looks like when it is NOT happy, and I have been much more attentive to its watering needs since. I ended up having to snip a couple of smaller branches from the top of it because they refused to recover – even after lots of water and pep talks. But it is back to good form now and seems to be thriving once again . . . whew!!!

I have done a little bit of reading on Coffee Arabica since they arrived, and I have learned quite a bit! Apparently Arabica accounts for about 60% of all coffee in the world. It is one of two primary species of coffee plant and is hailed for it’s flavor complexity and tends to be the smoother and sweeter of the two main species (the other is called Robusta).

Arabica coffee has quite the history. According to Judy Fleisher’s article The History of Coffee, Part One, legend has it that its benefits were first discovered by goats on the southern fringe of the Arabian peninsula. Apparently a goatherd noticed how much more energy his flock had when they nibbled on the red cherries of the plant, so he brought them to a local imam who boiled them and drank the liquid. The imam noticed that he felt more alert during his evening prayers, and word spread quickly of his discovery.

Commercial production of coffee began in Yemen, and as it became embedded as an integral piece of Mulsim culture, news of this new beverage spread around the world. The Arabians were very protective of their beans though, and although they would ship them outside of the country, they would first boil them to make them infertile so that no one else could grow the plant. That was, however, until an Indian holy man strapped 7 fertile beans to his stomach and smuggled them to India. Soon coffee was growing all over the world.

One of the interesting things about coffee is that its taste changes depending on where it’s grown. Differences in soil, microclimates, and how the bean itself is processed can influence the flavor of the coffee produced. So regionality actually makes a difference in many of the qualities of your morning cup of joe!

As far as caring for your own coffee plant, it sounds relatively simple. Firstly, keep in mind that they do get relatively large – up to 6 feet – so make sure that you have enough space to dedicate to it. They like light, but not direct sunlight, so place it next to a window rather than in the window. They like consistent moisture, so water frequently – just make sure it has well drained soil and that it doesn’t get soggy. They prefer indoor temperatures at around 65 degrees, so if you’re like me and enjoy a toasty house during the winter, you might want to move this baby to a room that stays just a bit cooler. They also like humidity. Apparently setting the plant’s pot in a saucer filled with pebbles and water can help with that. I would suggest that you make sure the pebbles keep the bottom of the pot out of the water, though – sitting in a tray of water could definitely make for some soggy soil. And as far as fertilizer, coffee plants do best if fertilized with a balanced fertilizer once every two or three months.

Will you ever be able to brew yourself a pot of coffee with beans from your carefully tended coffee plant? Probably not. However – if you are lucky enough to have one flower (this can take 3-5 years and the flowers apparently smell a bit like jasmine – bonus!!) and you hand pollinate them, you may get a few beans – and of course – bragging rights!!

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