Just attended a fascinating presentation by Ramiro Lobo, farm advisor in San Diego County with the University of California Cooperative Extension, about growing coffee in Southern California. The short of it is that there are a bunch of reasons to try it — even if you don’t drink coffee.

Seedlings of the Typica variety given to me by Ramiro Lobo

Seedlings of the Typica variety given to me by Ramiro Lobo

It’s a pretty plant, with glossy green leaves, white and fragrant flowers, and red (usually) fruit. It grows very well in shade; in fact, at my house it refuses to grow well in even half a day’s sun. And it can be grown in a pot indoors.

Here are some photos of a coffee bush located in San Diego’s Balboa Park that I wrote about last summer. (Click here to read that post.) It’s proof that one can grow a healthy coffee plant outdoors in Southern California.

The bush is about head high and growing in the shade of a tree.

The bush is about head high and growing in the shade of a tree.

Loaded with cherries, many of which are ripe for picking here in late July.

Loaded with cherries, many of which are ripe for picking here in late July.

Bloom about to open.

Bloom about to open.

A few tips from Ramiro Lobo on how to have success growing coffee:

  1. They like high humidity, so if you don’t live close to the ocean they will appreciate being among, even under, other plants.
  2. They will also appreciate growing among, even under, other plants because they enjoy shade. In coffee-producing areas of the world, it is often said that coffee likes about 50% shade.
  3. They like being watered from above, having their leaves washed off.
  4. They will be damaged by freezing temperatures. Choose the appropriate micro-climate of your yard or grow indoors.
  5. Use a slightly acidic mix if growing in a pot. A fairly large plant can be sustained in a 15-gallon pot.

Incidentally, a friend at the meeting showed me photos of her 13-year old coffee bush growing in a 15-gallon pot. It had been planted as a seed collected from Panama by her son. The bush is now gorgeous and productive, and she said that these days she mostly chews on the cherries and spits the beans out under the bush so they can germinate; she gives the new plants that grow from those beans to friends. Once, however, she did process the coffee cherries into dried beans to roast. It was quite a process, she said — such a process that she hasn’t bothered doing it again.

But how many people are lucky enough to have grown and processed and roasted their own coffee? Maybe a few more in the future if Ramiro Lobo can help it.