Two Branches from the Coffee Family Tree

Today’s post compares two very different branches from the coffee family tree:  a Panamanian varietal whose beans retail for outrageous sums, and a native Florida plant producing beans in my backyard. 🙂  Let’s start with the latter:

20130217_150205The Psychotra nervosa (wild coffee) above was started from stem cuttings 13 months ago.  It grows as a dense, round, multi-stemmed shrub, reaching 5′ tall and 4-8′ wide. The  glossy, puckery,  5″ leaves are light green when grown in full sun (like mine) or a deep forest green when shadegrown. Deep veination lends texture, but a nicer attribute is the gardenia-like fragrance that arrives in spring with the tiny white flowers.  By fall, bright red, half-inch berries (beans) appear.


Just like commercial coffee beans, wild coffee berries are round on one side and flat with a groove on the other. Although not considered safe today for human consumption, Native Americans brewed the berries for ceremonial/medicinal purposes. What the beans lack in caffeine they make up for in extractable hallucinogens  (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!) In raw form however, the berries are safe for wildlife.

In contrast,  Geisha coffee beans exported from Central America are SO palatable they command crazy high prices!   Although you wouldn’t know it by looking at the plant now, would you:?:


In 1931, the Geisha tree was brought from Ethiopia to Central America where it grew in relative obscurity for close to 70 years.  In 2003, Dan Peterson, owner of Hacienda la Esmeralda plantation (in Panama), was looking for something unusual to enter in a “Best of Bean” competition.  He noticed a patch of taller, thinner trees with elongated beans growing among his other varieties so on a whim, decided to harvest and taste-test them separately. Recognizing the result was dramatically different from everything else at the plantation, he entered his new single roast into competition, and the rest as they say, is history!


What happened over the next ten years has turned the coffee industry on its ear, with farmers throughout Central America buying and planting seeds with hopes of cashing in….but not everyone’s been so lucky. If ever a plant was finicky, this is the one!

Not only does Geisha produce relatively few beans (note photo above), it’s extremely sensitive to soil, climate and altitude with this last factor being key. Grow it at less than 4500ft and the result is ordinary run-of-the-mill coffee!. Yikes!

So what does this coffee actually taste like?

Geisha is described as light bodied with a jasmine-like aroma and honey/citrus taste profile. Although I’m a coffee freak,  I haven’t bought it yet…prices are a bit too steep, with whole beans ranging 30.00 to 45.00 per lb. depending on stockist. Green Mountain currently sells  Geisha Special Reserve K-cup 18pks  for 31.99. Yowzaa!

Until next time….

🙂 🙂 🙂

Nick the Node and Tiny Toad!

As I mentioned already,  Master Gardener classes began yesterday!  After a brief orientation and student introductions, we received a Botany syllabus, along with related handouts: Latin binomials, the international code of nomenclature, common Latin and Greek roots for the nomenclature, botanical families of importance, etc. etc… Sounds alot more complicated than it really is. We also got books and printed materials.

Class materialsMain textbook.

(Does that newspaper say Farmer and Ranchero?  It didn’t…until I added the “O”  😉 😉 )

After lunch we had a lecture on Plant Identification, during which many native plants were passed around and discussed. The branch in the photo (above right) is from a wild coffee plant, which I took home to try propagating. Let me show you my typical process.

Although I’ve tried many specialty mediums over the years, I’ve found mixing equal parts of these three gives me the best success NO MATTER what I’m rooting!

Rooting Mixture

Miracle Gro Garden Soil, Miracle Gro Cactus Soil and American Seed Starter Mix.  I also use a clay pot when rooting cuttings, on the assumption that breathable, porous containers are more nurturing of tiny emerging root hairs.

After filling the clay pot, thoroughly mix the soils together;  give it a really good soak and mix again.

Mixing the soils well!

Set the pot aside to finish residual draining while you work on your cuttings.  The books say to snip just below the node, but I’ve had better luck EVERY time I nick into the node a bit:

Nick the node!

Count up your cuttings. Using a pencil, poke the same number of “holes” in your previously mixed soil.  Sprinkle some rooting hormone into the cap and lightly tap each cutting in the powder, until the end is well covered, like so:

Cuttings with Rooting Hormone

Place the powder-covered ends in their corresponding holes: be careful…you don’t want rooting hormone sloughing off along the inside walls!  When you feel some resistance, use your fingers to push dirt against the stems, working from the bottom up, ’til they stand straight and secure:

Coffee Plant Stem Cuttings

Because the coffee plant is tropical, I’ve shown a plastic bag behind it–use it as a greenhouse “tent” to ensure adequate temperatures/humidity around the cuttings if your zone requires it.

Have you noticed a continuity issue in the last few pictures?  I broke the God-damned clay pot in the middle of this little exercise!!!  Knocked it right off the stacked pavers I  use as a work space and cracked it in a bunch of pieces…dirt and all!!!  Look closely at the last photo—-I repurposed the largest piece as a prop for the plastic bag!!!!  🙂

Moving along…..Remember how I told you about my love of fringe-science and all things Coast to Coast AM?  Today the Coast website has a news story about the discovery of the tiniest frog in the world, Paedophryne amaunensis

The Paedophryne genus consists of a number of  species found in the eastern sections of Papua New Guinea, an area largely unexplored due to the thickness of its rainforests. You can read more about it here or here but I’d surely be remiss if I didn’t share a picture of such a cute little friend:


Why am I on a dime?


Until next time…..