‘Coffea arabica’ – the coffee bean bush that is an understory shrub originally from the south-western highlands of Ethiopia – has been cultivated outside its country of origin since the first plants were taken to Europe from the wild in the 1600 and 1700s. From this small pool of genetic material, the coffee bean bush spread to other mountainous regions of the world that enjoy year-round rainfall, light shade, no frosts and temperatures around 20 °C (68 °F). These plantations in northern Africa, the Carribean, Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New-Guinea and South America now account for 75 to 80% of the world’s coffee production, with other species such as Coffea Robusta - now grown in Vietnam, Africa and Brazil – making up the remaining 20%.
Sadly, for all those folk who can’t start their day without a cup of coffee, the original Coffea Arabica shrub is now rare in its native state, and that rare stock and its inherent genetic diversity is increasingly protected by the Ethiopian government on behalf of its own coffee farmers. As climate change threatens those areas where coffee beans now thrive, searching through the wild strains for more robust and drought-tolerant versions of this small shrub becomes increasingly urgent in the race to keep the world’s workforce from grumpy chaos.
That our own kitchen garden bears little resemblance to the highlands of Ethiopia goes without saying. But the sale of Coffea Arabica seedlings for $35 per pot in a local hills nursery added some impetus to at least experiment with this natural source of the caffeine that fuels the gardener’s daily coffee breaks. This will require regular watering, slight shading for the shrubs under the annual leafing-out of their companion peach trees in our netted orchard, and a wait of a mere seven years until they bear fruit.
Still and all, even if the beans don’t amount to much down here on the Adelaide plains, the old Ethiopian habit of making a tisane from the leaves of the coffee bush might serve to keep some of the gardener’s caffeine-withdrawal symptoms at bay if a world-wide shortage does ever eventuate…