Lorikeet Palms Estate
A Fun Guide to Growing Your Own Coffee at Home
Along with my passion for the outdoors and hiking, one of my other interests is gardening. Much like a hobbit, I have a love for things that grow and good tilled earth. While not having a large backyard in Fremantle, through the use of pots and maximising space, I have a good variety of plants that I hope in the years to come will produce some fun crops. Along with my coffee plant (with several more in the nursery phase) I have a passionfruit vine, ice cream bean tree, banana tree, avocado tree, black sapote tree (chocolate pudding fruit), blueberry plant, strawberries, a caper plant and a few veggie gardens that see various crops throughout the year. My first major contribution though has come from the coffee plant and this was many years in the making after my first coffee plant was eaten by a mischievous puppy named Sadie and I couldn't find one for quite a while. I did finally find one and from there it's been a relatively easy process (with a lot of loving) to take it from juvenile plant to its first full season as a contributing member of the household.
My love for coffee originated from my trip to Costa Rica in my early 20s when I was lucky to be right in the middle of one of the best growing regions on the planet. Having only ever tried ground coffee before (no thanks) I didn't really drink it until I had daily access to freshly ground quality coffee from Costa Rica. By the end of my trip I was drinking 3-4 cups a day and fell in love. From there I started buying whole beans to grind at home and have loved it ever since, so decided that I would see if I could grow it myself. Given I'm only a backyard grower I thought I'd have some fun with it and create my own limited run coffee estate, so below is the process of creating your own drinkable coffee and how you can do it yourself.
The Coffee Plant
The main coffee plant you will see available for purchase is Coffea Arabica and you will notice the name from coffee ads speaking about using only 100% Arabica beans. The best coffee growing regions in the world are mostly tropical regions with altitudes over 1000m but for the backyard grower the plants will thrive at sea level provided you don't get winter frost, they are well watered and have access to the right soil (rich, well drained and well fed).
Availability is dependent on your own region but for those living in Perth it can be tricky. Bunnings occasionally get drops of both juvenile plants and tube stocks so you'll have to be lucky or know when they get their new stock. To save you a bit of time and potential heartache, spend the extra money and get a more developed plant if you can find one. Online they are available through Daley's Nursery if you can't source once from a local nursery. Once you have your plant keep it in great quality soil, fertilise it well (every 1-2 months), give it enough room to grow and water well. While it can survive in full sun, it prefers to be in light shade. They can also be kept as an indoor plant but they are less likely to fruit from what I’ve seen on the interwebs.
So how do you get coffee from the plant? Around December to January (in the southern hemisphere) it will start producing white, jasmine scented flowers that eventually turn into cherries (self pollinating). The ripening process takes a while and my crop eventually turned into the ripe red colour you need around September. Each cherry contains between one and three beans (usually two per cherry) that will have to go through the below process to get a coffee bean that can be ground up and enjoyed.
Picking and Separating
When you have your first crop of cherries ready to be harvested it is a very exciting time in your life. Unfortunately not all the cherries will ripen at the same time so this process might occur a few times over the harvest season. Once you've selected the brightest and reddest cherries the next step is to free the delicious beans from their fruity capsule ready for the next stage.
This guide will be from the backyard gardener perspective so you don't need any specialist equipment, just some elbow grease and patience. To make things a little easier I soaked the cherries overnight in water but you can go straight into the separation if you like. The way I separated the beans from the cherries was to get a sharp knife and either cut the cherry in half (if I found the exact line where the two beans faced each other) or just made a small slit and squeezed until the bean/s could be extracted easily.
I put the slimy beans into a bowl of water as this serves as a vehicle for the next stage and is an important way of sorting out the beans that won't make the cut (they still have a use but more on that later). The beans that float won't be any good for drinking so put them aside for later; otherwise the beans should sink to the bottom. The leftover bits of the cherry I put into the compost and the cycle of life means these will be turned into food for the existing plant in three months time when they have broken down into composty goodness.
The next stage of the coffee lifecycle is to get the slimy coating off the bean. This is done by soaking the extracted beans in water (put a cover on your bowl as midgies are attracted to the fermenting liquid) until the slime can be brushed off and the bean has a gritty texture (even when wet). This process for me took longer than expected but should be between 5-30 days from what I've read online so don't panic if yours aren't shedding their slime immediately. Once the beans are grittier than a Nordic crime series you are ready for the next stage of the process.
This was the easiest part of the whole process as it was done over several nights in my food dehydrator. If you don't have a dehydrator you can try drying them in the oven at the lowest temperature it can go or if you have the space and no thieving doggos/birds then on a tray or rack in the open sun. The end goal of this part of the process is to dry the beans out until they are brittle enough to bite through cleanly (or 10% moisture levels if you find a way to measure that). This took me several nights of dehydrating but the bite test makes it easy to find out when yours are ready.
When your beans are dry enough you will notice that they have a husk or parchment layer around them that needs to come off before the final stage of roasting can occur. This is the messiest and most annoying part of the whole process so if anyone knows of a way to make this more fun then please let me know in the comments section. One of the tips I saw for home growers was to put the beans in a food processor with the plastic blade attachment and run that on low to blast the husk off, then use a hairdryer to blow the unwanted husk away. I used half of that process without resorting to the hairdryer and eventually gave up and removed all the husks by hand. It wasn't a fun process but with the help of listening to podcasts it was worth it. The final product is a nice blue to grey bean they like to call "green beans" in the industry. This is how coffee beans are stored and transported around the world as the taste of roasted beans starts to degrade after a week or two.
This is where all the hard work comes into play and you get to roast your own beans. I assume this is the same feeling parents get when they send their kids off to school for the first time and all that hard work early on means you can enjoy drinking wine at 10am in the peace and quiet (just assuming here). There are a number of methods you can use at home including a popcorn maker (apparently a good method), frying pan or oven roasting. Given I only had a small quantity of beans I opted for a small copper frying pan on a medium-high heat so I could keep an eye on them. Don't let your beans sit still, constantly stir them to keep them on their toes, this will make sure they roast evenly and also give you something to do.
You will hear an audible pop when they are starting to look all brown and delicious; this tells you that they are almost ready. Wait for the second pop before removing them from the heat to begin the cooling process. I used a colander to swirl them around and transferred them between this and a sieve so they cooled as quickly as possible before laying them on some paper towel until they reached room temperature. Due to complex things like CO2 content, distribution and other important things, it is best to leave your beans for a week before moving onto the next stage.
Naming and Enjoying
I've been enjoying Yahava's speciality roast series this year and love the romantic feeling that comes from coffee marketing. With tropical and interesting sources like Kenya, Brazil, India, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea, the names of the specialty estates are so cool in my mind so I decided to come up with my own. I wanted it to be relevant and not just a random thing that sounded cool (Volcanic Toucan Estate, Misty Gorilla Harvest etc) so I picked Lorikeet Palms Estate. The reason for this is because in my backyard there is a large palm tree that is home to a family or three of lorikeets and that's where the coffee tree is located. I thought it was cool and used my limited Photoshop abilities to create the necessary logo for my first ever harvest.
Now all I needed was to organise a tasting night for a select few and the whole process was completed. I invited over some close friends for an evening of red curry, coffee tasting and board games. The grinding revealed a chocolately/malt element to the flavour and it became apparent that I had perhaps roasted it a little on the light side. With enough finished beans for three large cups I went to work with my Aeropress and whipped up three varieties according to people's preferences (black, white, white with sugar).
To accompany the homemade coffee I had made a lemon and passionfruit slice using lemons and passionfruit I had grown myself so as to complete the home-grown affair. Aron and Jen had brought a lovely pear and chocolate brownie so we were well catered for when it came to sweet sides for the coffee. When the tasting began there were no weird faces or violent reactions to the taste so things were going well so far. While not the familiar dark roast of coffee that I am used to, it wasn't a bad brew with subtle flavours to enjoy throughout the palette. It did have a very light colour to it and I think a slower and longer roast next time will be the key.
Collectively the testers came up with these notes; Mild flavour, sweet, malt on the snoot (nose) with a smooth, dry finish. No bitterness.
So all in all I would say year one is a solid pass with a palatable brew pleasing the crowds and I had fun with the experience. Can't ask for more than that and I look forward to improving the roasting process next year with hopefully more beans at my disposal. Thank you to my testers, Tom, Mel, Aron, Jen and Caris for their input into the finished product.
Paying It Forward
If you were one of the few that didn't just skim over this post (thank you) then you'll remember earlier I mentioned the beans that floated when you liberated them from their cherry prison still had a part to play. This is where you get to spread the coffee joy some more by planting them in a seed propagation mix and nurture them to fulfil their destiny in another way.
This is what I did with both the floaties and any spare beans that ripened well after everyone else. What I plan to do if my beans sprout into coffee seedlings is to pay it forward and gives these plants away. If it actually works (big if at the time of posting) and you are interested in getting your hands on a Lorikeet Palms Estate youngling then email me and I'll put you on the list (Perth peeps only and pickup will be one day only).
So there you go - A non-hiking post about my love for coffee and the process of growing and harvesting your own coffee at home. Hope you all enjoyed it and have the same luck if you decide to purchase your own coffee plant. I have put the Lorikeet Palms Estate logo on Redbubble so if you want to sport a really unique t-shirt, singlet or sticker that no one else will have then you can purchase one here.