Marianne CannonHow to grow your own coffee

Coffee beans grow on the Coffea arabica plant which is related to gardenia, ixora and coprosma. It’s a beautiful small tree to about 5m (15ft) high with glossy green leaves and jasmine-scented white flowers that appear along the stems in summer-autumn. As the fruit develops along the stem, it starts off green and then changes to a bright red cherry-like fruit, finally maturing to a dark brown. Although coffee is a small tree, you can prune it to a 2m (7ft) shrub, which is how they’re kept in coffee plantations. This pruning also encourages lateral branching and more flowering and fruiting.

Coffee fruit ready to harvest

Coffee fruit ready to harvest

So, what sort of micro climate do you need to grow coffee? Coffee prefers temperatures between 15 and 24 degrees C (60-75F), although if it’s within the range of 7-30 degrees C (45-85F), it will still grow quite well. Choose a shady spot, sheltered from cold or hot winds. Frost is the big enemy in cooler climates, and below -2 degrees C (28F) will probably kill the plant. The good news is that home-grown coffee doesn’t get any pests or diseases.

Indoor coffee Photo by janneok

Indoor coffee Photo by janneok

If you’re in a cooler climate, you can certainly grow coffee in a pot, and wheel it into a sheltered position for winter months and if you’ve got a greenhouse, even better. Almost any type of reasonably good soil is OK as long as it’s slightly acid (pH6), doesn’t get waterlogged, and isn’t dry and sandy. You can even grow coffee as an attractive indoor pot plant and still expect some beans.

For garden-grown plants, it has to rain at the right time of year, which for coffee is in winter-spring. Like murraya, coffee flowering is controlled by rainfall and as little as 8mm will force a new flowering and fruit-set through spring and early summer. New rain events can trigger another flowering so you’ll often find flowers and ripening fruit on the tree at the same time, as the fruit can take 6 months from autumn right through to spring to change to red. Cooler conditions promote the longer ripening periods. While your coffee tree will tolerate dry conditions it won’t flower and fruit without regular watering.

Coffee tree flowering

Coffee tree flowering

Coffea arabica flowers Photo by B.navez

Coffea arabica flowers Photo by B.navez

Late spring is the perfect time to plant your coffee tree. You should get your first crop of coffee beans in about 3 years (6 years from seed) but you’ll need about 30 plants for enough beans for a daily cup. You could even think about a coffee hedge in a shady part of the garden. Six weeks after planting apply 100g of a complete citrus fertiliser per tree, and keep doing that every 6 weeks during the warmer months as coffee trees are heavy feeders. On small plants, when it’s about 500mm (20″) tall prune off the growing tip to encourage lateral branching. In many coffee plantations, heavy-cropping coffee trees are cut almost to the ground every 3 years to encourage vigorous new growth, which is then thinned and tip-pruned to restore the bushy habit.

Harvesting and preparing coffee

Coffee fruit showing bean inside. Photo Stanislaw Szydlo

Coffee fruit showing bean inside. Photo Stanislaw Szydlo

Inside each coffee fruit are two beans which look a bit like raw peanuts in size and shape. You can pick coffee beans as they mature to red or do as they do in Brazil where coffee fruit is left on the tree until almost all of the berries have coloured and shrivelled, and the berries are easily removed in one go, although some say this method doesn’t give you the best coffee. Research in Australia shows that fruit picked at the prime red cherry stage makes the best tasting coffee. These coffee ‘cherries’ as they’re called, are slightly tart but quite delicious to eat straight from the tree when they’re red and ripe. Harvesting in eastern Australia would be usually around November to early December.

Unroasted coffee beans. Photo Fernando Rebêlo

Unroasted coffee beans. Photo Fernando Rebêlo

Getting your coffee fruit to ground coffee ready for a steaming cup is a multi-stage process. First you have to remove the pulp surround the coffee beans which is a bit laborious. Then the bean is fermented to remove the sticky mucilage – soak the coffee in water for a few days until bubbles start to appear. When the beans feel gritty, they’re ready for washing.

Now, comes the drying – up to 7 days in the sun. To tell when they’re ready, the bean has to crack between the teeth. This is called the parchment stage. But wait, there’s more! The parchment and silver skin have to be removed, leaving the green bean – and that’s the bean you have to roast. You can roast them in an oven (it only takes about 10 minutes), buy a purpose built roaster or there are some companies which will roast your beans for you.

Roasted coffee beans

Roasted coffee beans

Coffea arabica is just one type of Coffea species originally indigenous to the mountains of the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia. This type of coffee, Arabica, has less caffeine, which is what gives coffee its bitter taste, so many think this is the best tasting coffee.

Legend has it that a 9th-century Ethiopian goat-herder noticed that his goats became more energetic when they ate the bright red berries of a certain bush, so he chewed on the fruit himself. He took them to a nearby monastery where the monks discovered that the burnt beans, when mixed with water, made a drink that gave them energy. However coffee as a drink wasn’t really known for centuries. Instead, as the pulp of the coffee cherry was sweet, it was first eaten alone or with the seeds (beans). In some places, the green unroasted coffee beans were ground up and mixed with animal fat. Hmmm….yum? This mixture was then pressed into small lumps and was used by travellers for energy.

A_small_cup_of_coffee Photo Julius SchorzmanCoffee trees were grown in Australia for coffee production in the early 1880s, and pretty well too, with arabica beans from the far north coast of NSW winning awards in Paris and Rome in the mid 1880s. Because of the particular microclimate conditions, Australian arabica coffee is lower in caffeine and is highly regarded for its sweetness and medium body. As there are no serious pests or diseases needing any harmful pesticides, growing your own coffee would be one the most naturally produced coffees of the world.

Where to buy coffee trees online:

Australia – the two most available varieties are K7, bred in northern NSW for its disease resistance and a dwarf variety often sold as ‘Catui’: Daleys Fruit Tree NurseryLush Plants Qld; Heart Garden Nursery; Go Green Rainforest Nursery. Cape Australia supply coffee tree seedlings. In South Australia, contact Perry’s Fruit and Nut Nursery.

New Zealand: Incredible Edibles

South Africa: Beaver Creek Coffee Estate

USA: McKee’s Palms California, seedlings from Wellspring Gardens in Florida, or through Dave’s Garden

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Marianne Cannon

About Marianne Cannon

Marianne Cannon has been broadcasting as Real World Gardener on radio 2RRR 88.5fm in Sydney, since September 2009, and the program is now syndicated to radio stations around Australia. It's about growing your own, the abc of plants, and how to create sustainable gardens to fit into today's environment. Not just a show about plants; it has a strong green and ecological bent, with co-presenters addressing issues such as native animals and plants, water conservation, composting, reducing waste, protecting native species and more.

27 thoughts on “How to grow your own coffee

  1. Great article Marianne … its hard to find info easily regarding growing coffee in Australia. If I plant my coffee trees at the end of Summer or in Autumn (even Winter), what are the implications … not just on the tree but also on the fruit eventually? Will it be ok still, or, should I just be patient and wait for Spring?

    Also – what do i have to do to prepare the ground?

    Thanks alot!

    • Hello Saxon,
      sounds like you like your coffee.
      Planting out in autumn is the better option for any evergreen tree.
      The tree can put on some growth before cooler weather sets it.
      Winter is reserved for planting out bare rooted trees and shrubs because they are dormant at that time.
      Hopefully the site your growing your coffee trees in is protected from wind with some sort of windbreak.
      Generally, coffee prefers soil which is quite fertile, like the volcanic soils of Byron Bay and where it naturally grows in Indonesia and New Guinea.
      I would prepare the soil in much the same ways as you would prepare for planting up fruit trees in your area.
      Your soil type will determine how much compost and manures you need to enrich the soil before planting your trees.
      The more rich compost you can add, the better start you can give your coffee tree.
      Coffee will grow very poorly in soils low in nutrients.
      Also, access to water is essential, as coffee trees originate in rainforest areas and don’t do well in dry periods.
      Most of the coffee plantations in Australia are further north of Coffs Harbour, although gardeners in Sydney find they can grow coffee reasonably well in their backyards.


  2. *I will be planting about 20 trees outside on my parents farm in Gresford NSW – just north-east of the Hunter Valley about 2.5 hours north of Sydney

    • Given the proximity to Chinese markets, where I hear a growing middle class is enthusiastically embracing both wine and coffee, it would seem economically viable. Coffee needs both low latitude and higher altitude to grow well. I read that Myanmar with its drier winters can have bad frosts in those districts which can severely affect coffee plants but that global warming is reducing the number and severity of these damaging frosts. See more at

    • Hello Melissa,
      Coffee plants do suffer from winter yellows but its also the result of the pH not being correct for the plant. Coffee plants like acidic soils
      Plants growing in the Sydney Botanic Gardens are green overall because they have been planted into new soil which is acidic.

      regards Marianne



    • Yes, Shirley it is most definitely possible to grow a crop of coffee beans indoors. The trick is keeping the plant warm enough – preferably around 25 degrees C and never less than 10 degrees C. I’ve only just read a report today of someone growing coffee in his office and harvesting about 500 beans, roasting them in a frying pan, and making a very tasty brew.

  4. how to control a black pest which enters the stem and young branches and sucks the sap resulting to drying of the tree branches

  5. Hello Vian,

    I think you have the Coffee stem borer beetle. I’m not sure which country you’re emailing from because the control would depend on what was permitted in your location. Spraying the stems and trunk with Neem oil extract seems to be the best control for the beetle as well as using a coffee white stem borer pheromone trap, pheromone trap, to catch female beetle is another option if they’re available in your country.


  6. Thank you for the article. I was thinking of trying some plants on a roof garden in Perth but it gets up to 40 C + up there at times. and not wind protected fron the morning easterly but protected from the afternoon sea breeze. ? Not worth trying. Thank you. Anne

  7. Hello Anne,
    I recently moved a coffee tree from my nature strip because it was too exposed and showing leaf tip burn from drying out. It’s now back in my garden receiving dappled shade. So not an option for your rooftop I’m afraid.


    • Hello Donna,

      propagation is by seed from the mature berries. Just take off the outer skin when the berry is a dark reddish brown colour. You will find two pale seeds inside which can be sown.


  8. I’m considering whether we should grow coffee at Redland Bay, Queensland. My soil is mostly a sandy loam. Do you think this is worth considering or is there another crop that you feel is better commercial value?

  9. Hello Mark,

    You’re in the region where coffee is grown in Australia, although the majority of production is around the Atherton tablelands.
    The link below (rather long) to the Australian Coffee Growers Manual is for a publication by the Department of Agriculture on Commercial Coffee growing. This manual covers a range of topics you may find useful.
    For example it mentions that Coffee can be grown on many soil types, but
    the soil needs to be slightly acidic. A deep, fertile, permeable and porous volcanic red earth soil is ideal.

    Hope the link works for you.


  10. Hello all-

    I like to grow ‘different’ plants that you would normally see in South Australia. I currently have 2 large avocado trees that bear well and I also have a 7 year old Arabica coffee tree that is about 5 feet tall in a large pot. This year I got many hundreds of cherries on it.

    I have waited until they are all a uniform deep red and just now I have manually harvested all the cherries. (mid December)

    I have hand squeezed all the cherries to remove the bean (yes- it took me well over an hour to pluck and squeeze them all as I was harvesting) and I only collected the ones of the most uniform size and deep red colour. I discarded the obviously green or damaged ones. They were all very juicy when I squeezed them.

    I have washed them all and when I place them into a bucket and add water- they ALL float! Only the extremely small ones sink (not much bigger than 2 match heads)

    I have read that I should discard the floating ones because they are no good. This would mean I throw away pretty much every bean I have grown.

    I guess it really doesn’t bother me if I don’t get any good beans as I really only grow it for fun and conversation but I would love to know if anyone can tell me why all the beans are ‘bad’ despite looking perfect.

    I live in Adelaide and I move the tree out of extreme heat and cold, and keep it in full sunlight otherwise, I water it well, it has large deep green leaves on it, and it is growing well. It gets loads of cherries on it and it appears to be quite happy- I just get ‘bad’ beans off it.

    If I can get a handful of ‘good’ cherries of it, I would love to brew my own cup.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  11. Hi, we bought a new place that amongst other thing has a large amount of very tall coffee trees as it was a deceased estate of 6 years. After we harvest can we cut the trees down to a more manageable height without causing any damage? They are probably over 5m tall and some are rather “stringy” tall and lanky. We also have hundreds of seedlings ranging from 150mm to 1m high. Would they be good to transplant? Maybe as a hedge in a sheltered area. We live in SE Qld 1 1/2 hrs inland off the coast @ around 300m elevation. We have already has a number of good harvests and the coffee is great, looking how to manage them easier.

    • Hello Sandra,
      regarding the tall coffee trees over 5 metres, every variety of coffee tree needs different pruning.
      Trees of Arabica, Liberica, Gros Indénié and Excelsa coffee have only one main stem: one trunk only.
      The berries grow for several years on all parts of the branches.
      Pruning these coffee trees is simple:
      Cut off the top of the tree so that the coffee tree is not taller than 1.5 to 2 metres.
      Remove the branches at the bottom of the trunk.
      Leave only the thickest and best branches on the trunk.
      Cut away all the small spindly branches that grow on the trunk.
      Cut away all the dead and dry branches, and all diseased branches.
      Cut away suckers; they are not needed.

  12. I have a coffee plant on my Patio in a pot which is about 1 metre high. Can you tell me what I need to do to encourage it to fruit as it seems dormant .
    Is Citrus fertiliser the way to go?

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