The recession and subsequent economic changes have led to a rising interest in self sufficiency, with more people growing their own fruit and vegetables. Home-grown produce is generally healthier, as it’s not covered in commercial pesticides and fertilizers, and it tastes better too as it’s fresher when it reaches your plate. Some crops, such as carrots, potatoes and other root vegetables, are ideally suited to the damp, temperate climate of the UK. Others, such as rice and coffee, have evolved to need specific growing conditions which are very difficult to replicate in the UK. If you’re a coffee lover, you might have considered growing your own beans – but is it really practical?
The most popular type of coffee bean, Arabica, grows in cool, mountainous regions such as the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia. The plant likes a fairly constant temperature of between 15 and 24 degrees centigrade, and although a marked difference in temperature between day and night adds to the flavour of the beans, the plants are easily damaged by frost. Although coffee bushes could grow in the UK in heated greenhouses, it would be hard to replicate the conditions of altitude and rainfall they need to thrive, and any crop would probably be disappointing.
If you did manage to coax a UK coffee plant into producing a crop of green coffee beans, the next step would be to dry them. Without commercial drying equipment, you’d need to sort the fruit to discard any damaged cherries, soak the remainder of the crop to remove the pulp then spread the beans in the sun to dry. As this process can take up to 14 days, it’s unlikely the UK climate would oblige with fine weather for long enough to dry the crop properly – and excess humidity will cause the beans to go mouldy.
Finally, any beans that have survived so far need to be roasted. This is the simplest stage of the process, and can be done in an ordinary frying pan, although a home roasting machine will give better results.
With all this hard work more likely to end in disaster than a well-earned cup of decent coffee, it’s no wonder that coffee plants are only grown in the UK as novelties rather than as a commercial crop. As most coffee bean suppliers now offer a fantastic range of wholesale coffee from all over the world, it’s far more practical to stick with commercial blends while focussing your attention on growing plants more suited to a UK climate – and don’t forget to collect leftover coffee grounds for composting.