Countless people rely on coffee to get their day started, but not many know where those java beans came from -- or that they can be grown right at home. To truly appreciate that morning pick-me-up, it's necessary to look back over the lifespan not only of the beans ground to make the coffee but the process that went into it.
Commercial coffee trees grow best under certain conditions: a tropical climate, high altitude and nutrient-rich soil. There are more than 50 countries that grow coffee, but some of the most successful crops come from Hawaii, Costa Rica, Columbia and Brazil.
In the home, coffee beans thrive under many of the same conditions. Plant in moist soil in a warm, indoor area to let the seeds germinate. Kept in the same warm, moist conditions, they can grow up to 7 feet in height. If the conditions outdoors are warm enough, they can do well outside in pots, as long as they are not in direct sunlight. They should not be exposed to frost, as it will damage the plant at any age.
Germinating a java bean can be the most difficult part of the growing process. Coffee plants are grown from cherries, or raw coffee beans. Once those are acquired -- check with some nearby coffee importers for the freshest crop -- soak the seeds for about 24 hours to begin the germination process.
Take the ones that are showing the white embryo of a plant, and plant in a very deep pot. Keep moist -- it typically takes about 60 days for the plant to begin to sprout above the dirt.
Coffee plants don't mature enough to produce viable beans until they are approximately three to four years old and have reached a height of at least 4 feet.
Not all beans are viable for growth. After soaking, only the beans that are showing a bit of the embryo are viable; that's only going to be about a quarter of the beans that are started.
The most successfully grown coffee plants come from the whole fruit, freshly picked off the tree. In many areas, those are next to impossible to find. The next best thing is to find green, unroasted beans to plant.
The beans aren't the fruit of the trees, they're the seeds. The fruit of the coffee tree are small, round, red, cherry that contains on average two coffee beans. These cherries grow in multiples on stems, and because they mature at different rates, coffee cherries must be harvested by hand.
The cherries form from white, star-shaped flowers that appear in early summer.
Every 10 lbs. of cherries yield about 2 lbs. of beans.
There are two main types of java beans. Robusta coffee is hardier and can be grown more easily and successfully in a wider variety of altitudes and temperatures. The majority of coffee is made from these beans.
Arabica beans are harder to grow and require higher altitudes and more exacting conditions. Typically, these beans are more expensive, harvested by hand, and are used for gourmet coffee. In addition to being a more delicate tree, arabica beans take longer to mature into bean-producing trees -- an average of five years.
Within each type, there are a number of different varieties.