Is it true? How can it be? Coffee beans…turned pink? I must be dreaming!
No, I’m not dreaming, but they’re also not your typical coffee beans either. I’m not talking about some new spin on coffee, dyed pink in the cup or anything like that. What I’m referring to speaks straight to coffee’s roots…literally.
It all started with some pink beans. “What are THOSE?!” I anxiously exclaimed when I saw a little clear bag with unmistakably pink coffee beans within. I was like a moth to a bright flame in the night.
“They’re coffee beans, to grow coffee trees from!” my coworker explained. “Do you want some?” she offers.
I’m overjoyed at the thought of growing my very own coffee tree from a seedling, and at adding to the collection of other adopted plants in my cubicle, growing in the fading light of a Seattle summer gone-by.
But what does it take to grow a coffee tree? Having only ever purchased one pre-grown at a nursery before, I’m not quite sure what I’m getting into. Luckily, I’ve hit the “Coffee Agriculture” phase of my Coffee Master learning journey, which gave me quite the enlightening overview. As it turns out, it is quite the involved process to turn a little fertile coffee bean into a beautiful, coffee-producing tree.
In this case, it all begins with a pink, or rather green, bean. The very same green coffee beans that are the basis of Starbucks premium roasted coffee can just as easily become the next productive coffea arabica tree for one of our many farmers. The beans that I happened to procure are intended for sprouting, and therefore were sprayed with a pink fungicide to ensure their safe storage and shipment prior to being planted.
Now that these pink beans have found there home with me, they’ll begin the next leg of their journey: germination. Rather slow, coffee beans take approximately two weeks to germinate, and spread roots into the ground while pushing a small, green stem upward.
Successfully-germinated coffee beans will push up from the soil by about six weeks into the process. At this point, they are called a “matchstick” or “soldier” because it looks like a little leaf cap atop a small green stem (this “cap” is actually the cotyledon, the first leaf that forms from the embryo).
It isn’t until two months that this first leaf beings separating into two leaves that will nourish the plant through photosynthesis, and help the tree to grow its first “true” leaves. Plants at this stage are still very fragile and vulnerable, and are usually being cared for in a nursery, with careful monitoring of temperature, water, and pests.
Finally, about four months after germination, the first branches will start to form on the tree. After careful monitoring from months 4-12, and some quality checks to weed out any seeds which are failing to grow and thrive to standard, the baby coffee trees have developed nice, green foliage and are finally ready for transplant to a farm.
Believe it or not, that’s the easy part. After receiving the yearling coffee trees, farmers plant and carefully tend to the plants, protecting them from frost, drought and weeds for another three to four years before ever reaping a coffee cherry. Most coffee trees don’t reach full, coffee-producing maturity until at least 3-4 years of age. Though they can live to be 100 years old or more, once they begin producing coffee trees will only provide cherries for about 20-25 years before they must be retired or replaced.
In my case, I’m not too concerned with producing cherries. I’ll just be happy if I can keep the little things alive through their initial growing phases and into maturity. Updates to follow!