For people who want to know about and grow a Coffee Plant indoors

If you love coffee and houseplants, growing a coffee plant indoors might be perfect for you!

The coffee plant (Coffea arabica) is a very easy care plant with gorgeous glossy leaves that can fruit and produce coffee beans if given the right conditions!

How to care for Coffea arabica, quick tips:

  • Provide your plant with bright, indirect light
  • It prefers well-draining soil
  • Water when the first inch of soil is dry or when the moisture meter reads dry or nearly dry (usually a 2 or 3).
  • Coffea arabica likes to be root bound in its pot
  • Fertilize regularly during the growing season
  • Coffea arabica likes humidity, but does well in normal household conditions

To learn more about the care of Coffea arabica and its history within the coffee industry, keep reading!

Table of Contents

Does Coffea arabica really produce coffee beans that brew good coffee?

Yes! However, the amount of beans a coffee plant produces indoors will be relatively small.

To yield larger crops, acclimate your coffee plant to grow outdoors during the warmer months.

How do you acclimate your coffee plant to grow outdoors? Click to expand

You can acclimate your tree by placing it outdoors for gradually increasing lengths of time over the period of a week or so.

Here’s a sample schedule that I might use:

  • Day 1: Outdoors for 2 hours
  • Day 2: Outdoors for 2 hours
  • Day 3: Outdoors for 4 hours
  • Day 4: Outdoors for 4 hours
  • Day 5: Outdoors for 8 hours
  • Day 6: Outdoors for 8 Hours
  • Day 7: Outdoors all day

Why acclimate? If you move your plant from indoor conditions directly into full sun, the leaves are likely to burn and cause significant damage to your plant.

This will provide it with conditions that are much more likely to produce large amounts of blooms, which in turn fosters more berries and beans!

The berries a coffee plant produces are typically called coffee cherries.

The seed inside the coffee cherry is the coffee bean.

It takes about 4 years for Coffea arabica to reach the maturity level required to flower and fruit.

While it may take some time and dedication to get your coffee tree to produce beans, the plant itself is gorgeous from day 1.

You can also cheat and buy an older, more mature tree, if you’d like. 🙂

Coffea arabica roasted beans, Photo by: Pedro, Source

Where is Coffea arabica found in the wild and is it cultivated by the coffee industry for its beans?

Coffea arabica, Photo by: LuzElenaSolĂ­s, Source

The coffee plant, Coffea arabica, is used in commercial coffee production around the globe. In fact, it accounts for two-thirds of the world’s coffee.

Coffea arabica is native to Ethiopia and parts of Sudan and Kenya.

However, it was in Yemen (on the Arabian peninsula) that people first used the fruit of Coffea arabica to produce caffeinated beverages.

The location (the Arabian peninsula) of this discovery inspired Coffea arabica’s name.

Small coffee planting district in Kona, Coffea arabica, Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

While the genus Coffea contains over a hundred species, only 2 are readily used to produce coffee: Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora (or robusta).

Of these two, Coffea arabica is preferred. It contains less caffeine than robusta, but the taste is more pleasing and of higher quality.

Coffee cherries at various stages of maturity, Photo by: Dayana Lucia Guerrero Gaona, Source

In its native habitat, Ethiopia, Coffea arabica grows as understory in the highland forests. The higher elevations of these forests contribute to the more temperate climate these plants can be found in, with distinctive rainy and dry seasons,

The Ethiopian Montane Forests are humid and lush.

As Coffea arabica is part of the understory in the forest, these plants share the ground with many other plants, providing their root ball somewhat limited space to grow and rich, airy compost.

Does Coffea arabica make a good houseplant?

Yes! Coffee arabica has gorgeous, glossy, dark green foliage. It grows in a shrubby, tree-like way that can be pruned to any desired size.

Outdoors it can grow up to 40 feet tall, but as a houseplant it is likely stay around 3 feet.

It produces white flowers, which are said to smell a bit like jasmine. The blooms can be hand-pollinated indoors to produce cherries.

The coffee plant is very tolerant of a range of conditions.

My coffee tree has been with me for about 4 years. The first year it was in my care, I placed it on a north-facing window sill (which provides very low light) and only watered it when the leaves drooped. I never fertilized it and only repotted it when it became clear it was miserable.

I didn’t purposefully give it poor care, but that’s exactly what happened. I just didn’t know any better.

Surprisingly, the coffee tree still grew and survived. Now I give my coffee plant a lot more love and it seems to be pretty darn happy.

We’ll cover what kind of care a coffee plant wants next!

How to care for Coffea arabica indoors

Light

Coffea arabica prefers bright, indirect light.

What is bright, indirect light? Click here to read my blog post answering this very question!

I have been growing my coffee plant in a west-facing window where it receives the intense sunlight in the afternoon and bright, indirect light the rest of the day.

Coffee plants can also be acclimated to full sun and are more likely to produce flowers and fruit with higher light.

If you place your tree outdoors, be sure to monitor the weather. Coffee plants will not do well if the temperature dips below 55 degrees Fahrenheit or 13 degrees Celsius.

Choosing a Pot

Coffee plants prefer to have tight fitting pots, meaning they do not want too much excess room beyond their root balls.

You know if the pot is too small when the plant is drying out extremely quickly, roots are sticking out of the drainage hole, or new growth is not developing normally.

You know if the pot is too big when the plant is staying wet for too long, the potting mix has a mildewy smells. or the leaves on the coffee plant are yellowing at abnormal rates.

It is important to have drainage holes in the pot to allow excess water to drain out. Coffee plants do not want to sit in wet potting mix for long periods of time.

Potting Mix

Coffee plants prefer well-draining potting mixes, like most indoor plants.

I use a mixture of regular potting mix, perlite, orchid bark, charcoal, and pumice or lava rock.

How much of each do I use? I don’t measure, but just guess. However, if I tried to measure it, I would guess that about half of the mix is regular potting mix and the other half is a combination of soil amendments to add drainage.

By soil amendments I mean perlite, orchid bark, charcoal, pumice, or lava rock.

Water

Coffee plants are ready for watering when the first inch or so of potting mix is dry.

A moisture meter can also be used to determine when to water. I water my tree when the meter reads a 3 deep in the pot (this is the line between dry and moist).

Before I was more attentive to watering, I only watered my coffee plant when the leaves had visibly drooped.

I’ve heard that this is pushing the plant a bit farther into dryness than is healthy, but my plant always perked back up and seemed okay. I might have gotten lucky.

However, if you are just starting with a coffee plant and need a way to begin figuring out how often it needs water, this is the way that worked for me!

Fertilizer

Coffee plants appreciate regular fertilizing throughout the growing season.

I use a combination of fertilizers for this particular plant.

#1 A well-balanced fertilizer

My go-to fertilizer is Espoma’s Indoor Plant Food. It is organic, meaning that it is gentle for your plants and contains lots of micronutrients as well.

Espoma Indoor Plant Food, linked to Amazon

#2 Iron supplementation

Coffee plants use a large amount of iron. When repotting my coffee plant, I mix some Espoma Iron Tone into the soil to provide the iron the plant needs.

How do you know if your plant needs additional iron? The veins of the leaves will turn yellow.

Espoma Iron Tone, linked to Amazon

Humidity

I’ve read that coffee plants like humidity, which makes sense since they are tropical plants. However, I’ve never done anything to increase the humidity around my plant and it has seemed happy.

Occasionally I get some brown leaf tips during winter, but not enough to concern me. The tips can be trimmed if preferred.

How to get Coffea arabica to bloom and fruit

Give your plant time to reach maturity, at least 4 years

The plant won’t have the amount of energy needed to flower until it has reached maturity.

Depending on the conditions the plant is grown in, it could take as little as 3 to 4 years or as many as 10 years.

It isn’t uncommon for plants kept solely as houseplants to not flower because they aren’t getting the high light needed to energize for blooms. That is why growers recommend acclimating your plant to full sun when your weather allows.

Provide your plant with lots of light, water, and fertilizer

Healthy plants require a balance of good light, regular watering, and available nutrients.

The healthier your plant is increases the likelihood it is able to flower.

Decrease the amount you water your plant around mid to late spring

Decreasing the amount of water the plant receives will simulate the dry season it would have in its native environment (which tells the plant that its time to flower).

Increase the humidity around your plant

If the humidity in your area is very low around bloom time, try adding a humidifier or a humidity tray to increase the humidity around the plant.

Check the PH of your soil. Coffee prefers soil that leans on the acidic side (below 6.5).

To achieve more acidic soil, you could use a product like Espoma Organic Citrus-tone, which is a fertilizer that is higher in Nitrogen. Nitrogen will gradually lower the PH of the soil over time.

You could also use a product like Espoma Organic Soil Acidifier, which is essentially sulfur that immediately drops the PH of the soil.

Coffea arabica flowers

Coffee cherries

File:Open coffee cherry.jpg
Fresh coffee cherry and seed/bean, Photo by: Roger Burger, Source

How to process your homegrown coffee beans

Here is a brief video detailing the entire process from picked coffee cherry to ready for roasting. It’s only a couple minutes long and well worth the watch!

The summarized steps from the videos are:

  1. Pick coffee cherries when they are a nice, mature red
  2. Remove the seeds/beans from the coffee cherry by squeezing the cherry, which will free the bean inside
  3. Soak the beans in water for a couple of days, which loosens the slime coating on the outside of the bean.
    • The beans are done soaking when they no longer feel slippery
  4. Dry the beans in the sun indoors or outdoors OR in a food dehydrator at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for a few hours
    • The beans are done drying when they have a crisp, flaky texture
  5. Remove the parchment, flaky layer:
    • Place beans between layers of paper towel
    • Applying pressure to the beans by rolling a rolling pin over them to crack the parchment layer
    • Inside is the green coffee beans!
  6. Roast the coffee beans in a pan on the stove over medium heat, stirring constantly until beans are a deep, rich brown
    • The longer the beans are roasted, the stronger the flavor (darker the roast) will be
  7. Grind your roasted beans and you are ready to brew coffee!

Here’s the follow up video from the first, showing how beans are roasted in a pan!

What are some common problems or pest issues for Coffea arabica?

Browning leaf tips

A coffee plant’s leaf tips will brown and crisp if the humidity levels are lower than preferred.

How to raise humidity?

A pebble tray with a little water poured over the pebbles, can be placed beneath the plant.

A humidifier near the plant can also be used.

Leaf veins turning yellow

If the coffee plant’s leaf veins are turning yellow, it is likely an iron deficiency.

Adding some iron fertilizer will remedy the issue. I personally use Espoma Iron Tone, which is gentle, natural, and easy to use.

Leaves prematurely turning yellow, fading in color

If newer leaves are turning yellow, it is likely either nutrient deficiency or root rot.

Nutrient deficiency is easy to resolve by repotting or watering with fertilizer.

Root rot is a more difficult problem that must be assessed by uprooting the plant. If the plant has mushy or discolored roots, it is suffering from root rot.

To learn how to help a plant with root rot, click here to read my post.

Tiny bugs are on the plant

Coffee plants are most susceptible to mealybugs, aphids, and spider mites.

How to identify which one you have?

Mealybugs are tiny, white, ovular bugs that leave behind white, cottony residue as they feed.

Aphids are tiny bugs that are tear drop shaped and can be found in white, yellow, orange, red, brown, or green. They may also leave behind a sticky, shiny substance as they feed.

Spider mites are the smallest pest of these three and are usually tiny white or red dots, producing webbing on, under, or between leaves.

To control any of these pests, you can use some type of insecticidal spray or systemic pesticide. If you are planning to consume the berries on your tree, I would not recommend using a systemic that could end up in the berries and beans as well.

For more information on identifying and controlling each of these pests, click the links below to be redirected to those posts:

Mealybugs

Aphids

Spider Mites

Yellow, blotchy patches on leaves

The yellow spotting and mottling of the leaves signals Coffee leaf rust, a type of fungal infection. Characteristic rust-colored powder will be found on the undersides of the leaves as well.

Using a spray fungicide may help to control the issue. However, there are strains of coffee leaf rust now that are resistant to fungicides.

If your coffee plant has a spray-resistant rust, it is probably best to throw out the plant, as rust can spread easily and isn’t able to be cured.

Coffee leaf rust has created huge problems for coffee farmers who are losing crops to the resistant strains, dramatically affecting the production of beans.

Many hybrids are currently being studied and produced in attempts to create plants that are naturally resistant to rust.

Coffee leaf rust, Dr Parthasarathy Seethapathy, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Bugwood.org

Coffee berry borers

Coffee berry borers are tiny, black beetles that live and feed on the insides of coffee cherries.

How do they get inside the coffee cherries? Adult beetles bore holes in the sides of the berries and lay their eggs in the holes, so beetle larvae hatch inside the flesh of the cherry.

They are a difficult problem to control for coffee farmers as the borers are protected inside the berries.

People growing coffee as a houseplant, especially those in cooler regions, are very unlikely to deal with this pest.

Those who live in warmer regions and grow their plants outdoors (especially those who live in areas where coffee is commercially produced) may encounter this pest.

If you are looking for ways to manage this pest, check out this Coffee Berry Borer Guide on University of Hawaii’s site

Coffee berry borer, Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

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Happy growing!

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