Orange County Chapter CRFG

Sharing Information on Growing Edible Plants

IN THE ARBORETUM TODAY
by Alfredo Chiri

 COFFEE TREE - Coffea arabica - Rubiaceae

Donated by: CRFG/Bob Lockwood and planted in 1983 (r.f.-04)
Common names: Arabian coffee, Abyssinian coffee, Brazilian Coffee, Café

There are twenty-five different species of coffee, but the Coffea arabica accounts for the bulk of the world's production. The coffee tree is probably native to Ethiopia where it grows at elevations between 4,000 and 5,000 feet. In the early 18th century it was introduced to the West Indies, Central America, and South America. Today, nearly 90% of the world coffee comes from this species. Coffee is widely used as a flavoring agent for ice cream, pastries, candies, and liqueur.

The coffee tree is an evergreen plant, and the leaves resemble those of a laurel tree. The tree begins to produce a small amount of berries when it is about three years old. However, it takes five years to become full-bearing. Even then, it probably costs more to grow your own coffee than to purchase it. The plant is easy to grow, is decorative, and can be grown inside or outside as an understory plant where the average temperature is about 65-70 degrees.

The tree blooms several times a year, producing white flowers in axillary clusters that have a pleasant scent and last only a few days. The blossoms are replaced by green berries that change in color from green to a golden brown to a bright red when ripe, taking 7-9 months from flower to maturity. They are similar in shape to cherries.

Under the skin of the berries is a layer of yellowish flesh that surrounds the two beans, which lie with their flat sides together like a peanut. Each bean, called a berry, is enclosed in a tough skin that is brittle when dried. Inside is a delicate seed skin. The berries, when deep red, can be eaten fresh. Roasting properly will cause the bean to swell, shedding the skin and releasing the internal oils that give the aroma and taste that we recognize.

Propagation is usually by seed. The traditional method on virgin soils was to put 20 seeds in each 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 meter hole at the beginning of the rainy season. In Brazil seedlings are grown in shaded nurseries. At 6 to12 months, seedlings are planted in the fields, 4 seedlings to a hole.

In folk medicine coffee has been reported to be analgesic, an aphrodisiac, anorexic, antidotal, cardiotonic, CNS-stimulant, counterirritant, diuretic, hypnotic, lactagogue, nervine, and stimulant. 

In Latin America, as a folk medicine, the coffee plant and the raw berries are used as a remedy for asthma, fever, flu, headache, jaundice, migraine, narcosis, malaria, and sores.