by Paul Katzeff, Co-Founder & CEO
Coffee trees are remarkable for their ability to regenerate after severe pruning.
Severe pruning is hard on the psyche. You have taken care of your tree for 15 years and it has produced an amazing amount of enjoyment as it took you through its seasonal life cycles for 12 of those years. You are no Paul Bunyan with an anxious ax. You want to save trees, not chop them down. So you are about to break your own heart and you know it. You are, however, about to rejuvenate your tree and it will love you for your bravery. Sharp pruning shears are all that you need (and faith).
“The Cut” – May 4, 2016
On May 4th, 2016 the “cut” was made about 18” from the base of the tree; it broke my heart. That’s because I harvested 511 cherries from the tree, de-pulped them, soaked the seeds in a water-bath, dried them for a week on a window sill, and in the end had about 12 ounces of green beans. We invited the mayor of Fort Bragg, chefs, a winery owner, and our staff to a once in a lifetime “cupping.” We put the roasted beans on the cupping table with coffees from Central America and were pleasantly surprised when they received the highest praise for flavors we described as bright with hints of lemon, peanut butter, and dark chocolate.
27 Days Later – June 1, 2016
Note the small fresh leaves close to the trunk. This tree has plenty of root spore and therefore it is overpowered. It has stored its regenerative powers and now those roots have much less plant structure to support. It will put on a vigorous growth spurt over the next 6 months. Notice a new trunk beginning about 8” up the main trunk. We will watch it and hopefully 2 or 3 others will emerge from the lower trunk, proving the structure for the new tree.
48 Days After “The Cut” – June 21, 2016
The tree is beginning to fill in its remaining architecture with bright new leaves and a second trunk has emerged at about 10” from the base. We are on our way. There is nowhere to go but up and out.
Stay tuned for photos of its progress over the next 6 months.
• From Thanksgiving Coffee Company, the 2017 Roaster of the Year •
• Shop the award-winning roasts •
The coffee tree is an evergreen. It does not shed its leaves. They are on the tree year round. That makes them good for indoor beautification. You can get them to grow into a tree that is 5-8 feet tall or you can train them to be a bush 3-4 feet tall. They are pretty flexible.
Where to find coffee tree seedlings:
I have found them most consistently in places like Safeway, Longs, Rite Aid and Whole Foods flower Departments. These places carry mostly impulse items when it comes to plants. I think they all have the same supplier, or it seems that way. Your local florist may have them too and if they don’t carry them in stock, they will order a pot or two for you.
What to look for:
Seedlings in the stores are no more then 3-4 inches tall and are about 3 months old . They were grown from seed. Usually, they will come in a 2-4 inch pot, and there will be four to six little starts bunched together in the center to make it look substantial. Price is usually between $4.95 – $8.95.
What to do when you get the pot of seedlings home;
You have purchased one pot but you have acquired six trees. You don’t want them to grow up together so you need to separate them and repot each seedling in a 4 inch diameter pot. Here’s how you do it: Submerge the pot of seedlings in a bowl of warm water that is on the cool side of warm. Leave overnight . This does two things. It allows the seedlings to load up on water and it softens the potting soil . Get your potting soil and 4 inch pots together for your replanting . Now remove the loose ball of soil with the seedlings from their pot and lay on some newspaper . Slowly and softly pull the seedlings apart. Don’t be afraid of killing the trees ,they are very hardy and strong. Now repot each individual seedling in its own 4 inch pot. Six trees for the price of one !
Lets talk soil and repotting;
For the four inch pot and your initial repotting, you should use an organic potting soil. It is rich enough in nutrients to feed the plant until it is eight inches tall. You won’t need to add fertilizer to get the trees to 8 inches. Now things begin to change because at eight inches tall, the tree has spread out it’s root system throughout the small pot and unless you repot to a larger vessel, the tree will not grow much more. So, move the tree into a 12 -18 inch pot . This â€œhomeâ€ is large enough to add soil amendments. At this stage of the plants growing history it needs lots of Nitrogen so keep that in mind . We are helping the tree grow trunk, branches and leaves. That requires lots of nitrogen. This pot stage should take your tree up to the 24-36 inch size. (this should take 12 to 18 months) .
When the tree gets to the 24-36 inch size it is time for it’s final repotting into a half wine barrel or the equivalent. Now your tree is ready to kick into high gear because it senses that it can grow a root system that can support full production. Within one year from this last repotting your tree will have grown to four feet and it will begin to create beautiful white flowers that will fill your home with the scent of Jasmine and orange blossoms.Nitrogen is no longer needed in growth level amounts . Now it is the flower and fruit supporting supplements that are needed. Rose food is my favorite coffee food but try to stay as organic as you can. It effects the flavor of the coffee you will be getting and you don’t need to support companies that manufacture oil based chemical fertilizers.
Flowering Phase: It lasts about a month. The sweet aroma will blow you away, but that will come to an end just about the time you are tired of coming home to paradisiacal aromatics. Coffee is self pollinating so do not worry about pollination. The flowers form at the nodes on each branch, just behind the leaves. Each flower will become a fruit (coffee cherry). The flowers will turn brown and fall off the branch. Not to worry. Left behind is the carpel, a small round ball that over the next six months will grow into a fruit with one or two seeds. The seeds are known as “coffee beans.”
Jungle Jasmine : Coffee Flowers
The Fruiting Phase:
This phase lasts about six months. Coffee cherries ripen slowly. For the first 5 months they will be green and rock hard. Then they will begin to lighten and turn pink and then cherry red, then dark red to purple. Dark red is when you pick the cherries.
Watering; Coffee trees like water and need enough to feed the leaves and support the fruit. But they don’t like to sit in water so water from the top, like rain waters forests. Water until the water comes out the bottom of the Pot. Use warm water. That is what the tree would get in the tropics. Why shock the tree as if it was jumping into an ice cold lake? Warm water feels good to the tree just as it does to our face when we wash. And if you live where the air is cold at night , you can bet the soil is cold too. So warm up the soil and you have better growing conditions, conditions that the tree will recognize and be thankful for.
Where to place tour growing and mature tree;
Coffee is a shade loving tree that grows under the canopy of the forest . It needs little direct sunlight . Direct sunlight after noon time will fry the leaves and kill the tree. Yo need to position your tree so it gets morning direct sun. This is perfect light . East facing windows do the trick. As the sun goes to the west , the light coming into your home from an easterly window is soft , yet still bright enough to provide the equivalent of shaded sun. If you bring your tree outside, remember, a 10 minute frost will kill it and so will 3 hours of direct afternoon sunlight between May and November.
Cherry Picking and Roasting:
When the cherries are ripe, and they will all ripen over a 2 month ripening period, you have to take them from the tree. With a simple twist and pull they will come off easily.
Pick once a week , only the true red all over ripe cherries. Squeeze the seeds out of the cherries and drop them into a bowl of water for 24 hours. This softens the remaining pulp stuck to the beans and makes it easy to remove after the beans are dried. Place the beans onto some newspaper ( it is important that the stories on the page are positive and uplifting) and allow them to dry slowly. Sun drying is good but watch out you do not bake them. They should take about a week to dry to a stable condition. Repeat the process until all your cherries are picked and put to dry. Don’t forget to taste the pulp!
Roasting is the next step in this cycle. That is for another time and another blog entry.
Part III: Caring For Your Coffee Tree
When I was growing up in the Bronx in the 50’s my mom would stick three toothpicks into an avocado pit, balance the pit on the rim of a water filled glass, submerging the bottom half in the water. In a few weeks up would pop a plant with iridescent green leaves.
Today, 60 years later, I follow in my moms footsteps and plant coffee seeds in a 2 inch wide flower pot, wait 3 months for the seeds (beans) to pop up, and then nurture the seedling through three successive repottings into larger containers until the tree is 7 feet tall and producing thousands of beautiful red cherries.
Me with a three year old coffee tree. Note the small amount of the deep red cherries of the trees first crop sprinkled throughout the tree.
Last month I received a letter from Woody Hastings . I gave a him seedling coffee tree back in the summer of 2006 . He took the gift seriously.
He wrote to me last month and sent along these photos by way of a “tree progress report . His letter inspires this blog entry.
I’m Woody, the guy you gave?/sold? a coffee plant to at SolFest 2006. You and I have crossed paths at SolFest ever since and I think a few times at GreenFest too.
Here’s what I look like…
Or maybe you recognize my wonderful wife June who works at Global Exchange.
Anyway, I wanted to show you a couple of photos of the fantastic coffee plant you gave me. It is now fruiting with about 20 cherries and I plan to roast them per your instructions at the last SolFest and have a cup of my own home grown, home roasted, home-brewed coffee! And the plant, which is about 3 feet tall…
Really just thought you might like to receive such a good progress report, and wanted to thank you for giving me this living thing that has brought me (us) so much joy and entertainment!
Happy New Year to you.
See you at SolFest!
PS, Almost forgot to mention, Mr. Coffee, as the plant is known, was dressed up with ornaments and served as our “christmas tree” this past December. What a hoot!I wrote back…….
I wonder if I can put your letter and photo on our website so other people can learn and see your success with the coffee tree, I am proud of you. You found the magic within you. I Thank you for the photos. You will need about 30 beans (15 cherries) for a cup of coffee. about 12 -15 grams) What is your cycle ? When does it flower and when are the cherries deep red? Where do you live?
Feel free to use whatever I sent you for your website, plus the following info too if you wish. If memory serves well, I think I first noticed the flowering in mid-summer, cherries emerged in the fall, and started turning red in December. Judging by the pace at which they are all turning deep red, I will have harvested them all before the end of February.
I live in Noe Valley, in the geographic center of San Francisco, west of the Mission, east of Twin Peaks. We have a tall east-facing window in our living room and that is where Mr. Coffee spends most of his time. You had told me that they like morning sun, and he gets a lot of it there. On nice warm days we sometimes put “him” out on our deck that gets a lot of sun. Only problem with that was that one day we put him out when it was very hot and a few of the leaves “burned.” The soil I potted it in is a mix of bagged planting soil and other soils from various plantings, plus a small amount of worm castings. I’ve fed it diluted worm tea from my worm bin about once every two months. I think that helped a lot. Since I have 20 cherries, it will be one strong cup!
I think the one thing we have been mystified by is how the blossoms could have been pollinated. I was happy to see the blossoms and figured they would just drop and produce nothing. So surprised and gratified to actually get cherries, but how does that work? Self-pollinating?
Tomorrow I will continue this blog with my Tips for growing coffee trees at home successfully . Look for EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GROWING COFFEE TREES AT HOME