Verner Earls of Chauvin Coffee Co., in Saint Louis, Missouri, has been a friend to and supporter of Barista Magazine for, well, for as long as I can remember him. Our paths tend to cross only once a year, at the SCAA show, but we stay in contact on email throughout the year. He’s one of those guys who is always, always bouncing off the walls excited about coffee and everything associated with it. Whenever I see him, I feel a big rush of positive energy.
When Verner recently told me he was growing coffee trees in his dining room in Saint Louis, Missouri, I wasn’t at all surprised. Of course he was. It’s such a Verner thing to do! But then he told me the whole story, and I was amazed. I couldn’t wait to share it with you readers.
Sarah: Where did you originally get the tree? Did you plant them from seed?
Verner: Hard to believe story here: A former customer in Sainte Genevieve, Missouri (about 90 miles south of Saint Louis) had gone to Hawaii on vacation. While visiting Kona, she toured a coffee farm, and knowing my love of all things coffee, she wanted to bring me a souvenir: a coffee tree start, about 10 inches tall, complete with a little dangling root, in a cellophane packet (like incense) with a cardboard insert, which appeared to have been displayed on a spinner rack. Upon her return, it was still a couple of weeks before I got down to her store and picked it up. After seeing it, while intensely grateful, I felt there was no way this was ever going to grow, especially after being in this type of packaging for no telling how long! When I got back to the office it went into my desk drawer where it lay hidden for several more weeks. I came across it again and started to toss it, but was struck by a little sentimentality over the nice thought and effort that went into bringing this gift back to me. I also noticed that its appearance had not changed at all—kind of a “suspended animation” look. So I thought, what the heck, I don’t have anything to lose, so I took it home and planted it in a very small pot. I had to stake a pencil next to it and attach the plant with twine to the pencil in two places to make it even stand up. I left this in the house near a sunny window, and after several weeks it had taken root enough that I could cut the string off, but was still not strong enough that first year to risk the chance of a breeze snapping it in half, or being a tasty treat for neighborhood rabbits or squirrels. I never expected much from it. But five to six years—and much TLC later—we have about 50 brilliant red cherries in our dining room! I brought it into the house just before Halloween, and almost immediately it flowered.
Sarah: Have your coffee trees ever flowered or bore cherry before?
Verner: This is the first time for this tree; it’s five to six years old now. Over the last ten years or so we have had other trees which have produced flowers and cherries. The last one was totally destroyed by squirrels or raccoons after I moved it from porch to yard. That tree died a couple months later.
Sarah: What temperature do you keep the room they’re in? And in the summer, you move them out to your yard?
Verner: The house is 62 to 68 degrees typically. I usually move all plants indoors by Halloween, and back out by Mother’s Day. This stays on the front porch flanked by Banana Trees, all under the shade of Oaks from our front yard. Summers are HOT and HUMID! I water every two to three days in the summer with the hose, in winter four to eight ounces of water near daily. Rain is always an added summer treat.
Sarah: This is so cool, Verner—thanks for sharing! Anything else to add?
Verner: Considering this tree’s very humble start, we never held out much hope for it, so the fact that it even survived – much less bore fruit – has been impressive—it’s the little tree that could! I grew up on a farm, and my wife and I have good green thumbs and love to garden and do yard projects. It is always nice to reap the rewards of fresh spices, tomatoes or peppers but to be able to watch these little cherries develop over the course of a Midwestern winter has been an extra treat. Besides the day to day world of working in the exciting and ever-stimulating coffee industry, we are addicts and lovers of everything coffee in our everyday off hours as well. We sit at our table with family and friends, taking meals and enjoying conversation, sharing in each others’ lives and activities, looking out the window watching the world go by and waiting for Spring. The tree waits with us, listening, feeling the changes in the seasons outside, fulfilling its purpose in the cycle of life and living. Seeing this reminds me of the farms I have been privileged to visit, the smiling and hard working people I have met throughout the industry. It reminds me of the work I do, the people I meet and talk with, and the wonderful coffees I am allowed to drink daily.