Would You Believe: California-Grown Coffee?

December 03, 2010

The area is lush and hilly and filled with exotic fruits, and you can see the Pacific Ocean in the distance. The farm grows organic lychees, longans, avocados and citrus, plus a new addition of coffee trees. The hills provide protection in the winter and the coastal winds bring cooling in the summer. This is not a Pacific island, or the tropics, but the coastal hills of California.

Indeed, coffee was grown in California for a short time many years ago, but it couldn’t compete with citrus and other more profitable crops. Now that coffee’s popularity is soaring, some growers in the Santa Barbara region decided to give it a try. Organic farmer Jay Ruskey has 470 trees in the ground now and more in greenhouses. It took 16 months once planted for the organic coffee bushes to begin bearing. He recently harvested 130 pounds of Arabica varieties. Other farmers in the area have planted their own coffee plants and others have made commitments to do so, so Ruskey will soon start a California coffee growers’ association.

First cuppings of the coffee indicated more work on the roasting end is needed. Ruskey still has a lot to learn, but he was mostly focused on bringing his plants to harvest and the roasting was an afterthought.

Ruskey is selling his first season’s offerings at the Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market. If he and his neighbors are as successful as projected, in the not too distant future you may be able to find California-grown coffees on ROASTe’s pages. So far, California is the only location in the mainland US where coffee is being grown. Experts were skeptical it could be done, until they visited the Ruskey farm, where the sight of the plants made a big impression.

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