Coffee Pot

Veiled drug references in the title are a sure-fire, classy way to start off a blog about coffee.

More specifically, this will be a blog on the various pots I have used to house the coffee plants I am currently attempting to cultivate. Now that I write it out, it sounds a little boring, so this may just degrade into stories about the time that an Officer accused me of growing pot. I haven’t really decided yet. I guess we’ll see where this goes together.

The summation of my year of growing coffee in Minnesota has inadvertently shown me that there are tangible differences with which pots you choose to keep your coffee plants housed. Go figure. Different types of pots can, apparently, stunt a coffee plant’s growth or enable them to grow larger. As my only point of reference beyond the plants I own and cultivate in Minnesota are Brent’s plants, I am happy to report that one of my plants is the largest of the batch, making me the authority here.

Brent would do well to read this post and take my wisdom to heart. But I digress.

The Coffee Cup Begins.  Juan Valdez in the foreground.

Our first coffee plants were bought from a late February Disney World trip as a backup plan to Brent’s and my sad attempt to actually germinate $60 worth of green coffee beans, dirt, seed-starting trays, etc. (a story of loss and tragedy for another post, once I can begin talking again about the heartache). Upon my brother-in-law Brent’s excellent suggestion (not to be confused with Brent, my co-Caficionado), I named the plant “Juan Valdez”. The picture to the left shows Juan Valdez in the foreground, planted in a terra cotta pot. Brent and I are hunched over our failed Minnesota Coffee Cup experiment.

Prior to purchasing Juan Valdez from the happiest place on earth, I had learned that coffee sprouts are frequently sold with multiple plants to improve the odds of germination success in each pod, anywhere from 2-8. Apparently, grocery stores, hardware stores, even some bookstores sometimes have these exotic plants for sale as a kind-of living knick-knack you can buy for someone else to kill as a gift. No such luck in Minnesota (although I did purchase a very fine pineapple plant in a Wal-Mart a month ago. Named it “Marty”,

"Marty" the Pineapple Plant

pictured to the right. It is currently serving as companion plant for my coffee plants).

But I digress.

The original little cup that Juan Valdez came in was not very good. It was one of those cheap, black plastic cups that used to be a part of a larger tray. Consequently, it would not stand up on its own – the bottom was rounded. And with multiple little sprouts, there could only be a thimble-full amount of dirt with the huge ball of roots crammed into the bottom of that thing. Stupid design.

Probably almost as stupid as I probably looked carrying around Juan Valdez for 13 hours at Disney. I was too worried about it to pack it up in my wife’s purse (she is not nearly as tenderhearted and careful about plant transit as me) and it was early in the day at EPCOT. I carried that plant all over creation amidst a sea of screaming children, sweaty parents, and over-zealous actors dressed as fictional characters who were exceedingly into it. Think Comic Con with a permanent location on the surface of the sun.

I learned, too, that my wife’s cynicism regarding my fascination with coffee is probably is inherited from my equally flummoxed mother-in-law: She thought I was crazy, but like my wife, quickly became an enabler: She helped me fashion a more-or-less crush proof carrying contraption which became Juan Valdez’s home for the next 5 days.

But again, I digress.

Terra cotta (clay) may seem like the classic pot for plants. It is certainly one that is used universally for all different kinds of plants in and out of homes all over and is aesthetically rustic. The primary reason that Brent and I naturally gravitated to it is that it is cheap. A dollar spent on something very likely made without love by child slave labor in a third-world country at the local soul-crushing, small-business-destroying super market and you could have two of these little jewels.

As it turns out, it’s a terrible type of container for a coffee plant. One of the primary reasons for this is the pot itself will absorb moisture and then “sweats”, causing three related issues:

  1. Due to evaporation off the sides of the pot, the dirt and plant contained within were kind of refrigerated. It was amazing how cold the pot actually felt to the touch. My plant monitor confirmed that the dirt contained in this pot just a little after a soaking was fully 5-6 degrees cooler compared to any of the other style containers I used for the coffee, although admittedly the instillation properties of the terra cotta pot might have contributed to this stark difference!

  2. Another unintended consequence of using this style container is that the outside of the pot starts to darken as the moisture creates an opportunity for some of the soluble minerals in the dirt and water to bleed out and remains behind as the water is evaporated. At best, this is unattractive. At worst, if not turned periodically to face the sun, the side of the pot can actually be a great environment for mold or algae. Gross.

  3. Finally, the terra cotta style pot leaves behind a ring on whatever surface you put it on and can be particularly damaging to place on wooden surfaces.

The results after more than a year in one of these pots are glaring: the coffee plants in the terra cotta pots only grew 2-3 inches, where the other sprouts from Juan Valdez grew nearly double that. Don’t use terra cotta pots for your coffee plants unless you enjoy watching living things suffer without the gratification and relief that comes from eventual death (That is, of course, unless you are a physical therapist, postal branch manager, a tapeworm, or a TSA agent. That describes your whole job.)

Coffee Plant Growth after a Year

Speaking of parasites and federal agents, Juan Valdez had to endure and survive multiple rigorous TSA inspections for “my and other passenger’s safety.” One agent, after a particular rigorous inspection, asked if it was “pot”. When I gave him a rather incredulous and surprised look and was still in the process of deciding if this was an incredible insult to my intelligence or just the sad result of the last few reflexive, spastic mutterings of the remnants of an expiring federal employee’s soul, he clarified, “You know... the devil’s lettuce?”

Yes, really.

I told him that it was not pot, only a coffee plant. He gave me a steady look of suspicion and then waved me on. I shouldn’t complain, though. The threat posed from the coffee plant must have distracted him from the small knife that I later discovered I had carelessly left in one of the front pockets of my carry-on backpack.

But I digress.

All that to say: don’t plant your coffee in terra cotta pots.