The Coffee Bean - A Seed in Disguise November 21 2013
Did you know that the coffee bean we know and love is not a bean after all? Although similar in appearance to a member of the Leguminosae family, the coffee bean is really a seed. In the heart of a fruit, referred to as a coffee cherry, you will find what we commonly call coffee beans. Coffee cherries turn either bright red or purple when ready for harvesting.
Found in clusters along the tree branches, the skin, or exocarp, of a coffee cherry is bitter and thick. These are actually used with ginger to make another drink, qishr, that has been popular in Yemen for centuries. Underneath the the outer layer, the mesocarp has a grape texture and is extremely sweet. The parenchyma, a slimy protective layer, is followed by the endocarp. This forms an envelope around the bluish-green coffee beans that ave a final layer called the spermoderm.
Most often coffee cherries or berries have two seeds with their flat sides facing each other. In a very small percentage of coffee beans around the world (approximately 5%), the beans come with a single seed instead of the usual two. This natural mutation inside the coffee cherry results in what is called a peaberry. Peaberries are noticeably smaller and denser than normal coffee beans. While some say there is no taste difference, others claim they are sweeter and more flavorful.
Peaberries have to be hand sorted after picking and processing because there is no way to tell by looking at the coffee cherry if it will be a single bean or twins! Their exceptional taste and relative rarity command premium prices. But keep this in mind. If you are already buying great coffee from an award winning roaster and only 5% of all coffee beans are peaberries, you are likely drinking from the top 0.5% of coffee beans in the world! Not a bad way to start your day.