California Attempts to Grow One of the Only Crops It Doesn’t Already: Coffee

Good Land Organics

California, that golden land of opportunity and avocado toast, already grows pretty much anything you can imagine: strawberries, wine grapes, ducks, dates, apples, citrus...we'll just stop the list there, for all of our sakes. But there's one crop they haven't gotten around to... until now: coffee.

Here’s the thing with coffee: it doesn’t really like to grow anywhere in the continental United States. According to Coffee Research, the crop generally likes two types of environments: subtropical areas with defined seasons at moderate elevation, and tropical areas at very high elevations. The former includes most of Central and South America; the latter, Kenya, Ethiopia, and the like.

The U.S. doesn’t really have anything like that. The closest we get to a tropical climate is South Florida, which doesn’t have nearly enough elevation as it’s basically a gigantic swamp. On the flip side, anywhere with high elevation, like the Southwest, is too dry. So for decades, the only serious coffee-growing region in the United States has been in Hawaii, home of the famous Kona coffee.

But now, the New York Times alerts us to a new effort on the part of California growers to deal with their aridity and figure out a way to make coffee thrive in their agricultural wonderland. The coffee plant is a short bush that prefers the shade of taller trees. California happens to have an abundance of older, lower-yield avocado trees—adding coffee is a potentially ideal way to make these low-yield fields more lucrative. To fight the aridity problem—coffee is a water-intensive crop—California farmers are experimenting with new water-saving techniques. One example: a new tool to separate the skin from the coffee fruit without spraying it with high-powered water hoses, as is typical.

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At the moment, the price of these beans is seriously high, but there is definitely a market for high-quality, California coffee, which has scored very well on quality tests. And in time, with new technology and more production, the cost per harvest is likely to go down.

California Attempts to Grow One of the Only Crops It Doesn’t Already: Coffee