How To Grow Your Own Caffeine

I’ve read multiple articles on surviving TEOTWAWKI that urge the reader to “give up addictive substances, such as tobacco and caffeine” so they’ll be able to function better in emergency situations.

Coffee Cup And Beans on Wooden Table

I don’t know about you, but without coffee, I find it hard to function in ANY situation, let alone the Zombie Apocalypse.

Can you imagine trying to blast your way through a dense crowd of flesh-eating undead without your morning coffee?

Sure, there’s some sense to giving up addictive substances that may become unavailable during a crisis. There are plenty of people that are hanging on to negative and harmful addictions that should kick them regardless of potential apocalyptic futures. But caffeine? That’s our friend! You wouldn’t want to kick a friend to the curb just because the supermarket shelves are bare and your last can of espresso is almost empty… would you? Is that how much friendship means to you?

The gardener, unlike the stockpiler, doesn’t need to rely on far-away nations to provide himself with a supply of coffee or tea; he can grow his own.

Growing Coffee

Coffee is a tropical tree that can’t stand frost. It’s impossible to grow outside anywhere much north of south Florida. But the key word is “outside.”

Fortunately for northerners who love their beans, coffee can stand a large amount of shade, such as you’d have inside a living room. If you have a sunny window or a skylight, you’ll do fine growing coffee inside during the winter months. After all chance of frost, you can put it out on the porch so it can enjoy the warmth of summer… just make sure you bring it back inside before cold strikes again.

Note: when you keep a plant in a pot, it’s easy to over or under-water. Just give it a good soaking when the top inch or so has dried out. About once a week should be good. My own coffee plant has been very forgiving of less than regular waterings.

The plant itself is a glossy-leaved and attractive fellow that flowers in early spring and fruits along its stem in clusters. They almost look like plastic and make a really good little houseplant. From flowering to fruiting takes nine months, so be patient.

Once your harvest ripens, you can break open the red fruit or simply eat it and spit the “beans” out to be saved for roasting. I know a guy that made his own bean roaster from an air popcorn popper and a thermostat. Your mileage may vary.

Growing Tea

Think tea grows only in China and Japan? Think again. There’s actually a plantation in South Carolina that’s been growing tea for over 100 years.

True tea, known in Latin as Camellia sinensis, is also an attractive plant. A member of the camellia family, you could easily grow a few bushes in your landscaping and people would just think you liked flowers.

Tea is allegedly hardy to zone 7, but I’ll bet you could push that to zone 6 if you have a sunny south-facing wall or other suitable microclimate.

If you’re a tea drinker, you might be surprised to know that black tea, green tea, oolong, white, orange pekoe and a plethora of other incarnations of “tea” (unless they’re “herbal” teas, which are a different animal completely) are all from the same plant, just processed in different ways.

Like coffee, tea can be successfully grown in a pot and moved indoors in colder regions. A big benefit to tea over coffee is that you use the leaves rather than the fruits. That means there’s not much waiting for harvest time. You simply gather leaves as you need tea, dry them, and brew away.

Growing Yaupon Holly

If you really want to get away from the broad road and take a completely different path, there’s a native North American tree that’s been used for centuries as a tea. Though it’s almost completely unknown in modern times, the Yaupon holly makes a delicious drink that contains a healthy supply of caffeine. Unfortunately, this tree gets a bad rap, particularly since it’s been given the unflattering Latin name Ilex vomitoria. Why? Well, long ago, when the Spanish first came to North America, the natives invited them to a party. At the party, the Indians drank gallons of Yaupon tea, got crazy and jittery, and then vomited up the contents of their stomachs, much to the surprise of their guests. Yeah. They used to totally know how to party back then.

Anyhow, Yaupon holly isn’t really a purgative. Try drinking a gallon of any tea and see what happens – it’s not fair that this delicious holly got pegged with a yucky name, but that’s the way life goes when you don’t get to pick your own taxonomical moniker.

Unfortunately, like true tea, the Yaupon holly doesn’t grow in any state colder than USDA zone 7 – though it can also be planted in a container. Some of the dwarf forms are particularly suited for this.

If you have the right climate, the Yaupon holly is often planted as a landscape plant for its evergreen foliage and attractive trunk. I’m growing one in my front landscaping right now and it’s one of the most care-free trees I’ve ever planted, though it’s not a fast grower.

To make Yaupon tea, I simply chop up some of the leaves and small twigs and pour boiling water over them; however, I’ve also read that they’re excellent toasted on a pan or dried like regular tea leaves. The flavor is pleasant, earthy, and much like a middle-of-the-road English tea. Not bad at all.

A Final Note

In case you hadn’t guessed by my enthusiasm, I’m growing all three of these plants right now. That’s how serious I am about preserving my caffeine supply. There’s really no reason not to pop a couple of these plants in the ground or in pots. Even if you’re not an addict, there are plenty of people who are. Imagine how expensive a handful of coffee beans would be after a year of folks living without them… or the value of a cup of tea when the nearest plantation is 2000 miles away.

Heck, I’ll bet even zombies would enjoy a cup of nice oolong.


About David The Good

David The Good is a naturalist, author and hard-core gardener who has grown his own food since 1984. At age five, he sprouted a bean in a Dixie cup of soil and caught the gardening bug. Soon after, his dad built an 8’ by 8’ plot for him and David hasn’t stopped growing since. David is the author of four books, writes a regular column for The Ag Mag in North Central Florida, is a Mother Earth News blogger and has also written for outlets including Backwoods Home, Survival Blog and Self-Reliance Magazine. You can find his books on Amazon here. David is a Christian, an artist, a husband, a father of seven, a cigar-smoker and an unrepentant economics junkie who now lives somewhere near the equator on a productive cocoa farm. Visit his daily gardening and survival blog here: The Survival Gardener And for lots more gardening info, click here and subscribe to his often hilarious YouTube channel.

View all posts by David The Good

4 Responses to “How To Grow Your Own Caffeine”

  1. Jen Says:

    This is great news! I have a bunch of single-serving coffee bags in my BOB to wean myself off of caffeine in the event SHTF, but if I don’t have to give coffee up, I’d rather not! I only have 1 or 2 cups of coffee a day, but still…creature comforts are important, and there’s just something about that first hot sip in the morning.

    Plus, growing your own = less money spent in the store, especially on the specialty “fair trade” coffees and such! I’m all about saving money where ever I can, so this is an even better reason for the here and now to have my own plants!


  2. Ron Layton Says:

    I am curious as to how you grow yaupon from seed. I live in Wakulla county, FLA and yaupon is everywhere and I want to try growing it from seed. Do the berries need to dry out or go through a cold cycle? Thanks and really enjoy your work.


    • David Goodman Says:

      Good question. Birds usually plant them via their digestive tracts in the fall. From my reading, hollies in general take their time germinating. Here’s a link with a few suggestions:

      I’ve grown American persimmons from seed by planting the seeds in fall in a flat, then letting them sit out all winter through the cold, the rain, the dry, and then the warmth of spring. A significant amount germinate. I’d try doing the same thing with handfuls of yaupon berries in a pot of dirt.


  3. dew Says:

    I planted yaupon holly last spring in z8b, which rarely had hard freezes until the last few years. I didn’t cover it, not thinking of it as a tender perennial, but it didn’t make it (nor did my butterfly bush!) Now that we’re figuring out that hotter summers bring colder winters, I’ll start protecting my perennials better with compost and covers. I’ll keep an eye out for dwarf varieties of yaupon holly for containers too, thanks.


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