When we lived in Guatemala, we had a coffee tree that grew just in front of our condominium. About five years ago, when we were in the process of moving back up to Wisconsin, that tree was full of coffee cherries (that’s what they are called). On a whim, I picked a handful and put them in my suitcase to put in planters in Wisconsin. I knew that they could never grow outside of course, but I thought they might make a good house plant.
When I arrived at our home in Wisconsin that spring with my handful of coffee seeds, I planted them in peat pots. However, since Vivian and I were not ready to actually move home for a couple of months more, I asked our son Nathanael, who was living at home at the time, to keep them moist. This he did faithfully, but when Vivian and I moved up, nothing yet had emerged from the soil.
“I don’t think those coffee seeds are going to germinate,” Nathanael told me.
I thought probably that he was right, but I didn’t want to give up on them yet and asked Vivian if she wouldn’t mind watering them when she was taking care of the other house plants. She watched them for another three months, but finally she also thought that nothing was happening.
Well, I could not ask my accommodating family to indulge my whim any longer, but I didn’t want to give up on my little coffee seeds quite yet. The reason for this was that, when I looked at the peat pots, I thought that I could detect a slight swelling on the surface of the soil in a couple of them, like there was a little plant that wanted to emerge. I took over the care of them.
Within a week, a little coffee plant began to make its way through the soil surface. The coffee plant emerges from the soil much like a bean plant. Like the bean, the coffee seed is a dicotyledon, meaning it begins its growth with two embryonic leaves.
When it grows out of the soil, its stem emerges first, bent
over and with the seed head still in the soil. After a few days, the stem straightens out and the head pops upright. From this head the first two leaves appear and the growth starts from there.
Soon I had a tray full of young, little coffee trees growing in the sill of our south window. I did not want that many trees, so I started giving them to friends, saving three of the healthiest looking ones for
myself. Those three grew nicely all of that year. I kept them by the same window all winter. By the next spring, they were about eight or nine inches tall. After most threat of frost was over, I put them outside in the sun dappled shade of larger trees, just like they are grown in the mountains of Venezuela and Guatemala.
You will notice that I said that I did this when most of the threat of frost was over. It was not completely over. Some nights, when the temperature dipped low, I brought them into the house. One night, however, I forgot.
When I awoke in the morning, my first thought as I opened my eyes was, I wonder how cold it got last night! I hope my coffee plants are alright!
I looked out of my window and could see that frost covered the valley floor in front of our house, but there seemed to be no frost up on the hill, where our house sits. Nevertheless, I ran downstairs to get my three little coffee plants. Actually, I wondered if the plants might perhaps be able stand a little frost, since I knew that it sometimes got quite cold in the mountains of Venezuela, where we used to live. We never got frost right where we were, but I wondered about higher in the hills. I thought it might have been possible to get an occasional frost there.
However, that morning I learned that coffee plants can tolerate absolutely no frost. I would think that it could not have dropped a mere degree below frost that morning, and then not for very long. But my three little trees all succumbed to the cold. They were dead.
As it turned out, that was the year we were called to move to New Zealand, where we lived for about three years. We had not planned this move, but because of it, even if my trees had remained alive, my coffee growing enterprise probably would have come to an end anyway.
I also learned from most of the friends to whom I had given the plants, neither did they have a successful experience growing their coffee. Out of all of them that I had given away, I knew of only one plant that had survived. Our eldest son Jesse and his wife Lisa had it in their living room, where it was growing healthily. In fact, it was growing so large that one day last autumn, Jesse asked me if I wanted it (as many of you know, we are now back in Wisconsin). Jesse and Lisa had so many other plants growing that they needed some room. I think that they also knew that I admired their coffee tree. I eagerly accepted.
The coffee tree is really a very beautiful tree. It has very
dark and rich leaves that stay green and glossy all year around. I put my new tree by the same south-facing window where it had first popped up its head. All of last winter, I sat by it as I read and drank my morning coffee. It is where I would always in the mornings. No matter how cold and blustery it was outside and no matter how deep the snow, as I sat under my coffee tree, I felt like I was sitting in a coffee plantation in Venezuela or Guatemala.
In the afternoon, the sun shown through the window and the leaves of my tree dappled my chair with little bits of coffee-leaf shade. The tree continued to grow throughout the winter, and seemed happy in our house. I saw new leaf buds emerge and then the tiny leaves unfold and grow on the end of the branches.
Then suddenly one morning, I noticed something different happening. There was growth that was beginning not on the end of the branches where the leaves developed, but along the length of the branch, right at the base of each leaf stem. My coffee tree was starting to show the first signs of developing blossoms!
Growing coffee, I have learned, must require a large amount of patience. Any seed that takes five or six months to emerge from the soil would teach us that. The blossoms also were very slow in coming.
What is the hurry, after all? In Wisconsin, our apples and plums must put forth their blossoms, get pollinated and develop fruit all before the autumn frost ends the growing season. But where coffee is grown, this is not a problem. There is no need to rush the process along. Nevertheless, the blossoms did come, one by one, lily white flowers among the dark green leaves.
In Venezuela they have a saying about a man who is has
This is not my coffee tree. I got this photo from the
internet, but it shows the coffee plant in full blossom.
The blossoms on my tree are still in bud form and I
am sure that they will not come in so full as these
By now you must be saying, “All this is very interesting” (or not), “but what does it have to do with The True Arab Spring?”This, I will let you know in a few days.