Why can't I consume my coffee plant?
February 22, 2009 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Why does my coffee plant say "For decoration only. Not for consumption"?

A friend just gave me the sweetest, most thoughtful gift - a baby coffee plant! Just noticed this morning that the tag says "For decoration only. Not for consumption", which is a little bit of a let down because it would be so novel to some day harvest the cherries, process them, roast the beans, and brew coffee from it. (I mean, how can I not do this? I have to!)

Does it have to do with pesticides or chemicals that may be in the soil it's currently planted in? Is there something I can do to grow a food-safe version -- like perhaps harvest cherries from this tree, and start a new plant with them in organic soil?
posted by jclovebrew to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, I meant to add that the plant is very small right now - maybe 5 inches tall. Probably a long way away from sprouting cherries, if that makes any difference.
posted by jclovebrew at 1:52 PM on February 22, 2009

It certainly is possible to grow your own coffee beans. You might want to call the people responsible for your cutting (is there a name on the tag?) to see what they might have done to make them advise you not to harvest and consume your beans. It could just be that they are protecting themselves legally because they are not certified in some way to provide plants for consumption.

Here's a link to a site that instructs you on growing your own coffee. http://www.thegardenhelper.com/coffee.html
posted by Piscean at 2:20 PM on February 22, 2009

Maybe they just don't want to mislead people into thinking this is a product that is supposed to yield coffee without much work. From a couple of websites, it sounds like to get it to create the cherries, it would take a lot of work (careful watering, fertilizing, temperature), a new pot (they apparently get really big, up to 10 feet), not to mention all the processing to get usable coffee. Here's one useful site. It seems very reasonable to me that they would manage expectations with that kind of label even if technically there was nothing wrong with the plant. But I second contacting the company and making sure.
posted by parkerjackson at 2:21 PM on February 22, 2009

It seems that not all Coffea plants are suitable for consumption... as in tasty (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffea). It's probable that your plant is one of these, and the producer doesn't want a lawsuit - if you have a scientific name on the label, you may be able to verify this!
posted by Vantech at 2:21 PM on February 22, 2009

I wonder if it less a food-safety issue than a realistic-expectations issue? It may well be that your tiny coffee plant will not produce beans when grown in a typical houseplant situation. If it expects tropical conditions, especially light levels...
posted by werkzeuger at 2:21 PM on February 22, 2009

If you're talking about C. arabica, which is a common decorative tropical houseplant, it may be any of the above, or simply because of the alkaloids and caffeic acid in the leaves. Unfortunately, your chances of getting the plant to berry in a pot are approximately nil, and it will not survive in the ground during a Seattle winter.

You're better off buying beans.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 2:21 PM on February 22, 2009

There are different federal rules for selling decorative plants vs. selling edible plants or foods, and what seeds you're allowed to sell where.

It's not terribly important. Lots of places sell coffee plants that will bear edible coffee.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:26 PM on February 22, 2009

I knew a woman who grew a coffee plant from seed, and it did, indeed, produce cherries--maybe a half-dozen a year, not enough for even a demi-tasse. I've been to a coffee farm, and have seen the amount of processing it takes to go from plant to cup, as well; it's cetainly not impossible to process the beans yourself, but it's not exactly easy, either. And who knows about the quality? I agree that it's an issue of having realistic expectations rather than the beans being unfit for consumption. Give it a go, if you think it'll be fun, just don't get your hopes up.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:33 PM on February 22, 2009

In addition, they may have used fertilizers or pesticides on the plant that are not approved for use on food plants.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:22 PM on February 22, 2009

Emperor Snookloze, I know someone who harvested from a plant grown indoors in Anchorage, so it can be done. It took a lot of work, but it happened. Of course, the plant is huge and in an enormous pot.
posted by Nabubrush at 8:07 PM on February 22, 2009

Because you're not supposed to eat it.

Really though, my instinct is to say it probably would have to go through additional federal regulations that the company didn't want to do, or like mentioned above maybe it was treated with some pesticide.
posted by Amanda B at 10:22 PM on February 22, 2009

If your plant actually produces beans (and, they are rather fragile and slow growing), you can certainly process and roast the beans. But, unless you have kept the plant under optimal conditions and it is an arabica plant, it is going to taste like crap.

Still, it won't kill you.

If you want more information and pictures and stuff, I'd recommend the coffee library at the Sweet Maria's website.
posted by QIbHom at 11:31 AM on February 23, 2009

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