My husband and I live in the tropics. We love coffee, and coffee trees love growing in the tropics. Doesn’t that sound like a great garden idea brewing?
Well, we decided to do a little research into what makes a healthy coffee plant grow right here in our backyard as well as what we can do to make our coffee flavorful. We were surprised at what we found and decided to share our new insight with our readers.
The Beautiful Coffee Tree
When we visited the McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach, we found the Coffee Arabica tree thriving in vibrant health. This lush tree is covered with dark-green, waxy leaves and adorned in “coffee cherries.” It is not unusual to see fragrant white blossoms, green fruit and ripe fruit simultaneously on a single tree because they bloom continuously. According to the National Coffee Association USA (NCA), coffee trees are able to thrive in a wide range of climates, and they do best with rich soil and mild temperatures, with frequent rain and shaded sun.
So, the coffee tree grows well here. What’s the problem?
We were hoping to cultivate our own beans and use them occasionally to brew a cup of delicious coffee. Unfortunately, we found out that to get to a height where we can raise delicious coffee here in South Florida, we’ll need a whole lot of landfill.
As it turns out, coffee growers have found that the higher the altitude where the coffee is grown, the better the flavor of the coffee. The NCA reports that the better Arabica coffees are grown between 2,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level and that “optimal altitude varies with proximity to the equator.”
Coffee beans that are grown at altitudes over 4,000 square feet are graded with special designations including “Hard Bean,” “Strictly Hard Bean,” “Altura,” or “Mile High.” These “special” beans are generally more desirable (and unfortunately more expensive) because these beans take longer to mature but yield more consistent, richly flavored results than their counterparts grown at lower altitudes.
An article published by Scribbler’s Coffee puts it this way: “As growing elevation increases, a coffee’s flavor profile becomes more pronounced and distinctive… From the mild and sweet taste qualities of a low-grown Brazilian bean at 3,500 feet to the soaring floral notes of an Ethiopian grown above 6,000 feet, altitude heightens a coffee’s ability to deliver bigger varietal nuance and complexity.” The same coffee connoisseurs added, “Very low-elevation coffee regions impose harsher growing conditions on the coffee tree. Higher temperatures and less rainfall cause coffee to ripen more quickly resulting in beans with taste qualities that range from simple and bland to earthy or murky.”
The Bottom Line
The coffee tree may add a beautiful lush ornamental accessory to our garden. However, unless we plan on moving to the Andes Mountains, we’ll still need to continue getting our fine gourmet coffees from places outside of our backyard.