Coffee bush in the garden?

Have you already had a coffee today? Did you wonder where the coffee actually comes from? Probably not. The coffee bush originates from the Ethiopian Highlands, but is currently cultivated in more than 50 countries throughout the tropical and subtropical belt. Although the genus "Coffea" includes more than 100 species, only a few are used for production of the sought-after coffee beans: by far the largest share here is accounted for by Arabica coffee, followed by Robusta and a few other species such as Liberica and Excelsia. There are numerous varieties of each of the species used. Coffee arrived in Europe via the Ottoman Empire. The first coffee houses appeared in 1650, in Venice, London and Marseille

After Brazil and Vietnam, Colombia, my "winter residence", is the third largest producer of coffee at 750,000 tonnes per year. Here as well, the Arabica coffee bush is the most widely cultivated, mainly growing at altitudes above 1000 metres and in the light shade of large trees. The vast majority of producers are small to medium-sized family operations, who are increasingly cultivating their coffee "organically" (without the use of chemicals), often on very steep slopes, and frequently sell it under the "Agroecologia familiar" label. Here, no tree-less plantation operation takes place. The cultivation of coffee is therefore barely noticeable in the hilly to mountainous landscape, in which the large shade-giving trees are visible. From the distance, the impression is more one of forest.

The bushes almost always bear blossoms and fruits simultaneously throughout all the ripening stages, the main harvesting time, however, is around Christmas. Only the ripe red "cherries" are selectively hand-picked, washed, dried, hulled and two thin skins are removed. Even the drying process is "organic" as it takes place in the sun, which shines continuously during this season. The greenish beans are then sold to dealers or co-operatives and marketed worldwide. Roasting takes place in the consumer countries shortly before sale.

One curiosity is the "fox-dung coffee", also referred to as weasel coffee or (in Indonesia) as Kopi Luwak. The wild-living Indonesian palm civets or Ethiopian civets eat the "cherries", but excrete the beans again undigested. Until around 60 years ago, the "dung coffee" was collected, washed and prepared as a beverage by the native population because the very valuable and laboriously cultivated plantation coffee was reserved exclusively for the colonialists and for export. Today, it is partly produced using synthetic enzyme solutions and is traded at over € 250 a kilo. Unfortunately, the high price is increasingly tempting locals to catch the civets, which are indispensable for the "natural" production of the "fox-dung coffee", and to keep them in extremely confined cages where they are inappropriately fed almost exclusively a diet of "coffee cherries". Today, however, a few coffee farmers have taken up the ecologically and ethically responsible production of Kopi Luwak. This coffee is not only specially "fermented" on its journey through the digestive tract, its special taste also stems from the fact that the wild-living animals eat exclusively the ripest and therefore best "cherries", which is not possible in the case of cage-rearing.

In Europe today, coffee has become a mass consumer product and hardly anyone can remember the times when virtually all that was available were coffee substitutes (malt, fig, or chicory coffee) and "real" coffee was almost unaffordable. Does your coffee taste even better now? Back to the original question: Coffee bush in the garden? Yes, but in Europe, only in the greenhouse!

Prof. Karl E. Schönthaler
VIKING garden expert