Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture

Cal Poly Pomona Experiments with Growing Coffee

Published Date: Mar 7, 2017 12:00:00 PM

Cal Poly Pomona students measure the growth of a coffee plant

Cal Poly Pomona makes beer, grows grapes for wine, and oranges for freshly-squeezed orange juice.

In a few years, you could add coffee to your shopping list.

The Department of Plant Science has planted coffee in a secluded spot on campus as part of a research trial. It includes 13 different varieties from Honduras and El Salvador to see which can tolerate the range of temperatures in the Pomona area.

“If it does well, the plan is to have our own Cal Poly Pomona variety of coffee to sell,” says Valerie Mellano, professor and chair of the plant science department.

But, Mellano warns, it will take at least three years before the coffee trees will mature and bear enough fruit to make a cup of coffee.

Gary Bender, a retired farm advisor with the University of California’s Cooperative Extension in San Diego County, is teaching a class at Cal Poly Pomona on emerging crops in Southern California that is assisting the research trial.  A plant science graduate student is studying the growth and heartiness of the varieties as part of his master’s degree program.

The students are measuring the plants to chart growth, weeding, fertilizing, mulching, and irrigating the coffee.

California farmers already are growing coffee in Santa Barbara and San Diego counties, Bender says.

The plant science department also will work with Assistant Professor Olive Li of the human nutrition and food science department to process the coffee berries so they can be consumed as fruit, Mellano says. The edible berries also contain caffeine, she says.

The coffee is surrounded by orange and avocado trees. A tropical plant, coffee is generally grown under other plants, because it does not tolerate frost and requires shelter and shade.