Coffee was more popular as a houseplant decades ago.

The White Raven Coffee Shop, the best little pourhouse in Felton, has an interesting but old fashioned houseplant on the counter. This group of four small but rapidly growing coffee trees, Coffea arabica, was a gift from a loyal customer.

Mature plants can get to thirty feet tall in the wild. Fortunately, coffee trees are easy to prune to fit interior spaces. Pruning for confinement is actually better than relocating big plants outside, since they do not like cold weather and are sensitive to frost.

Like various species of Ficus, coffee is appreciated more for lush foliage that happens to grow on a tree that can be trained by pruning to stay out of the way, overhead or in other unused spaces or corners. The simple remarkably glossy leaves are about two and half inches long or a bit longer. The very fragrant small white flowers are almost never seen among well groomed houseplants, and only rarely and sporadically bloom among less frequently pruned larger trees in greenhouses and conservatories.

The half inch wide coffee fruit, which is known as a ‘cherry’, is even more rare than flowers among houseplants because of the scarcity of both pollinators and pollen (from so few flowers). Those fortunate enough to get flowers sometimes pollinate them with tiny paintbrushes or clean make-up brushes to compensate for a lack of insects about the house. The resulting bright red or somewhat purplish cherries barely taste like cherries and only make two coffee ‘beans’ each; not enough to bother roasting and grinding for coffee, but great for bragging rights.

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