How much do you love a steaming hot mug of fresh coffee in the morning? Based on the very fact that you’re sitting here reading this blog, we’re going to assume that you love coffee just as much as we do, here at Coffee Bean Shop.
Whilst the casual coffee drinker might occasionally visit a cafe, or even brew a pot at home, if you’re a serious coffee drinker, then you may have wondered if it’s possible to grow your own coffee at home, in the UK. It would save considerable money and energy than having to trek to the coffee shop, or pick up a bag of beans from the supermarket, right?
Plus, many people are increasingly looking for ways to become more self-sufficient and sustainable, which has resulted in an increase of people choosing to grow their own food. As we all know, home-grown fruit and vegetables tend to be fresher and healthier than supermarket food, as they are grown without pesticides and preservatives.
So, can you grow coffee in the UK? Unfortunately, the short answer is no - not if you’re looking for a relatively quick caffeine fix. However, if you’re willing to invest some serious time and effort into your coffee-growing hobby, then you might just be able to.
How can you grow coffee in the UK?
If you’ve decided that you’d like to commit yourself to growing your own coffee, then the first thing to be aware of is that our climate is not suited to the specific growing conditions required. Fear not, though! This is where a polytunnel - an elongated semi-circular tunnel, constructed of a steel frame and covered in polythene - can help.
Even with a polytunnel, it is difficult to grow and nurture coffee beans from seed. Your best bet is to look after a few coffee plants, which will be easier to keep alive (not a reflection of you, just of the British climate!). These lush green plants will bloom with small white flowers before producing the cherry-like fruits, from which you will be able to harvest the coffee beans.
In order to maximise the plant’s chances of survival, you must be confident that your polytunnel won’t be affected by any freezing weather, as even the lightest of frosts can quickly kill coffee plants. Pot the plants into loam-based compost in the early spring, and aim to maintain a consistent temperature of 22 degrees between October to February, and then 24 degrees for the warmer months. The plants should be fed with fertiliser every month, and watered regularly.
Once the coffee beans are ready for harvest, they will need to be processed before consumption. To do this, remove the skins by fermentation, and then dry and roast them in your oven on a low heat.
In addition to the time and effort maintaining these temperatures and nurturing the plants, it can also prove an expensive experiment for many people, so it’s important to consider whether or not this is a practical hobby.
Realistically, this is a long and arduous process for anyone who is looking for a relatively quick way to grow their own coffee beans from home.
Having said that, it’s worth mentioning as a point of interest that the BBC News reported back in 2008 that coffee beans had been successfully grown at the Eden Project in Cornwall. These coffee beans were believed to be one of the first cups of coffee made from beans grown in the UK. The Arabica beans, which were grown in the rainforest biome, were used at a local restaurant.
Why can’t you grow coffee in the UK?
There is one reason alone why we can’t grow coffee in the UK, and that is simply down to our notoriously grey, damp and drizzly British weather. Whilst some crops flourish under these conditions (such as root vegetables like potatoes and carrots), coffee is certainly not one of them. As mentioned, it is very difficult to replicate the necessary climatic conditions for these plants to grow.
The universally most popular coffee bean - the Arabica - tends to grow most successfully in cool, mountainous areas, like the highlands of Kenya or Ethiopia. The beauty of these places, in the eyes of the coffee plant, is that they offer a consistent temperature of between 15 and 24 degrees, with the optimum conditions of both rainfall and altitude. Although it might seem like there is a relatively large difference between these temperatures, the fluctuations actually add to the flavour of the beans. Most importantly, these places never experience freezing conditions, so it’s impossible for the plants to be killed by frost.
After all that, if you were successful in growing a crop of coffee plants, then the next stage is to dry them. Unless you have top-of-the-range commercial equipment available at your disposal, you’ll need to allow the beans to dry naturally in the sunlight for up to 14 days. Given the unpredictability of the temperate British weather, you’d be lucky if your beans fully dried, whilst avoiding the onset of mould that excess humidity can bring!
Where are the best climates and countries for growing coffee?
Although the UK sadly isn’t a good place to grow coffee, the good news is that there are plenty of places around the world that are capable of producing exquisite tasting coffee beans, which we are fortunate enough to enjoy at home.
The best conditions for growing coffee are in medium temperature tropical climates, containing nutrient rich soil. The countries that produce the highest amounts of coffee per year exist near the equator all around the globe, including Guatemala, Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Colombia.
When it comes to growing coffee in the UK, you need to be prepared to make a big time, effort and financial commitment to growing your own beans. It is possible with the use of a polytunnel but, given our unpredictable climate, it is likely that all the hard work will end in disaster rather than a well-earned cup of good coffee. This is why coffee is only really grown in the UK as a novelty, rather than a commercially viable crop.
As most coffee bean suppliers - like us here at Coffee Bean Shop - now offer a fantastic range of coffee beans from all over the world, it might be most practical to stick with commercial blends, whilst focusing your efforts on growing plants or crops that are more suitable to the British climate.