Growing Coffea Arabica at Home

You can grow coffee as an indoor plant, but not from the green beans we sell for roasting. Read on to learn more about growing a coffee plant at home.

The green coffee we sell for home roasting is a processed (de-hulled) dried seed. For all the processing entails (from wet-milling, de-pulping, drying, stripping the parchment, and even polishing sometimes) the embryo that makes this a “live” seed is often intact. It is located at one end of the seed lengthwise, near the crease. However, the coffee seed is dried too much to be a viable seed. It is dried down below 11% moisture level, and for creating seed coffee is usually never dried below about 22%-25%.

I have tried to grow coffee from green beans dried to 11% or less. You can test this by soaking 20 seeds in an inch of water overnight: in 12-24 hours you should see the embryo emerge from about 5-8 seeds. This appears as a white protrusion about 1/8″ long from the end of the seed. But even though I could get an embryo to expand, I could never get any further plant development.

Unripe green coffee cherry on the tree, from my trip to Huehuetenango

Anyway, I started traveling to farms back in 2000 and that gave me access to all kinds of viable coffee seeds! So I quickly became a fan of growing some of the unusual varieties of coffees I encountered. 20+ years on, I can’t say that growing coffee in containers and pots in a colder climate is very successful for producing actual fruit, but I sure enjoy it anyway. At any given time I have 50+ coffee plants growing at home and around the workplace!

We have some other great resources on the subject of Growing Coffea Arabica at home. This might help you grow your own green coffee :

From these “live” seeds with the embryo out, you can attempt to grow a plant. I warn you, I tried about 50 times and only had one success! The problem is that from germination to a sprout takes 60 days! And there’s a high chance your seed will simply rot in the meantime. But it is possible.

The coffee cherry from under-ripe, to green, to very ripe (crimson) to overripe.

To have great success growing your own coffee from seed, you need a whole, ripe coffee cherry or from parchment coffee, aka pergamino. Alas, I can’t help you much with this. On my trips I bring back 1-2 specimens from specific cultivars to grow, but I don’t think Customs really likes this. I make sure whatever I bring is safe, disease, and pest free. I process them to pergamino state to be even more certain. You could get seeds from Hawaii or Puerto Rico, so I recommend you remember to gather a few coffee cherries on your next vacation (hint-hint). I have best results from planting crimson to overripe cherry

It is best to strip the seeds, covered with sticky fruity muscilage, out of the fruit skin and plant them individually. This way, the root doesn’t have to fight its way out of the skin, and growth is speeded.

Plant the seed 1.5″ deep in a deep pot. Coffee needs lots of depth for the taproot. Don’t use a little seedtray -use a real pot. Keep moist but don’t oversaturate.

After a long 2 month wait, here’s what you get, the gooseneck.

When you plant a whole cherry you get 2 plants, since there are 2 seeds in a cherry. In this case, I didn’t strip the skin of the cherry, so the seed has emerged and is lifting its burden, the whole cherry, into an upright position.

When this seedling is strong enough, I strip off the outer seed layer, the skin, which I should have done when planting.

After 3-4 months you have this comical Dr. Seuss-like plant, basically a seedling with a bean stuck on top. The bean softens and expands to for the first leaves

At 4 months you have a plant, but it doesn’t resemble coffee very much: the first primary leaves are an unusual lily pad shape. These will fall off as the plant develops regular leaves

At 9 months, the plant is really looking like coffee (although it has not yet dropped the lilly pad leaves yet). You may need to re-pot … it is best to allow the plant a lot of room for deep roots than confine its growth in a small pot.

Here is a plant at about 2 years old, maybe a little less. Actually this photo is old and this same plant is about 4’6” feet tall, and 9 years of age!

2 Year Old Coffee Plant

Updated “Grow Your Own Coffee” Information: Sweet Maria’s Coffee Greenhouse

Since I wrote the above commentary, my collection of coffee plants has grown quite a bit. I don’t grow these plants for the paltry amount of coffee cherry they produce, but simply out of curiosity about coffee varietals. (In San Diego and other mild climates, you can indeed get a decent harvest from the trees – my mother’s coffee plants in San Diego are heavily loaded with fruit. Even there, the plant must come in during winter to avoid anything close to frost). And still the one pot of coffee we make from Finca Oakland is not bad. This past year we tried a combination of dry-process and tree-dried, and it was quite good. It reminded me of Timor.

My earliest plants where found at nurseries. You would be surprised where you can find coffee plants, at Lowe’s or Home Depot, but often not marked as such. In fact, I bought a little unmarked coffee plant at Ikea! Not satisfied with the unknown types I was growing, I started to collect seeds in 2003, after I had been making coffee trips for quite a while.

Many of my first plants failed to produce, or I didn’t completely document what they were. The other issue is that many farmers don’t truly know what they are growing, nor is there any expert readily available to identify plants, or with the broad experience to spot unusual varietals. I certainly do not have that expertise…

Below are some images of the greenhouse I use for my coffee plants in winter, while the largest plants, in galvanized cans and on rolling dollies, are brought in the for the winter. Coming soon, a list of all the cultivars we have…

Larry Manfredi’s Coffee Tree in Florida

Here’s a note from a customer who lives in a much better climate to grow coffee … outdoors, and planted in the ground. “I thought that you would enjoy photos of my Coffee crop for this year. My trees have gone through a lot of moves with me over many years. I had them growing in pots for most of their life, about 25-years! I planted them in the ground and trimmed them for their first time in 2005. Not long after I trimmed the trees, we got hit by or were effected by 4-hurricanes. It was a very rough year for us with roof damage to our house and a yard with up to 3-4 feet of water in it. We did not get any flooding in the house which was good. Of my three original Coffee trees, two survived the storm one died. I had two more trees that were seedlings from the original three which survived (these were about 10-years old). I now have a total of 5-trees which did pretty good this season with fruit. I have sent you some photos of one of the trees as well as the fruit, I hope that you enjoy them. I have a photo attached with a bowl of about a pound and a half of cherries. I have been wet processing these which is easiest for me.” Take care, Larry Manfredi, Homestead, Florida USA

Larry’s crop, diminished by the hurricanes…

Larry’s coffee tree, planted outside in the ground, Homestead Florida

2 Responses

  1. I’ve always wanted to do this, but I don’t know where to get the green seeds/beans. Do you have any recommendations on where I might procure some?

    1. Hey there, you can try to grown from green seeds since the embryo should be alive. But like Tom pointed out, since the coffee has been dried to 10-11% moisture, success is very limited (he mentioned he had 1 out of about 50 tries!). A couple years back, we offered a very limited run of seeds Tom brought back from Rwanda, but haven’t since. I know you can buy them on Etsy, and maybe a few other places, so you might try there!


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