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