When you hear the word “coffee”, I bet you don't even think of a flower, a fruit or even a coffee cherry! Instead, you probably imagine a dark and strong drink produced from roasted coffee beans. Am I right?!
Coffee beans are not actually beans, but rather seeds from the coffee cherry plant.
After reading this intro, you might be wondering:
If you’re a coffee fanatic like me, then this article will help you see your favorite drink from a different perspective. I certainly did when I first learned about the Coffee Cherry!
The coffee bean goes a long way from white blossoms to finally ending up in your cup. While often referred to as “coffee beans”, coffee has actually nothing to do with beans!
You see, the coffee plant itself is a fruit tree. The coffee tree produces cherry-like fruits: they start out green, and, as they ripen, they become bright red in color. Some people also call them coffee berries.
As the coffee cherry grows, the flesh of the fruits protects the coffee seeds by serving as a barrier against wildlife and insects.
Once the fruits are picked and dried, the pulp and skin are removed from the dried husk. The seeds are then roasted and become known as “coffee beans” due to their visual resemblance to beans.
Typically, once the fruit flesh and skin are separated from the seeds, they are discarded. In some cases, they will be turned into compost and used on the farm as fertilizer. In other cases, they’re used to make tea (more on this later).
If you take a walk through the grocery store, you will quickly realize that there is nothing called a coffee fruit. The coffee fruit is not found in grocery stores because it’s not carefully hybridized and selected like most edible fruits.
The reason that the coffee cherry as a fruit has never reached the shelves in your local grocery store is that there is not much to chew on. If you were to bite a coffee fruit, you would quickly realize that it consists mostly of seed and rough skin.
So can you eat coffee cherries? Technically, yes, you can. Some animals actually do, as coffee cherries taste quite nice. But that doesn’t mean that it would be a popular fruit to buy!
Some farmers state that they can judge the quality of the coffee beans by the state of the cherries. For example, riper cherries are darker in color and their sugars have developed more.
The method that separates the pulp from the beans is what determines the final product. Understanding the different methods in which coffee is processed can make it easier to determine your flavor expectations when picking coffee beans.
Here are the two most popular processing methods for separating the seeds:
Coffee goes quite a long way from the coffee cherry to get into your cup. Once the coffee cherry is processed and dried, it goes from hard and dense green coffee beans, to brittle and flavorful roasted coffee beans, then finally to our favorite beverage!
Humans fell in love with coffee not because of the taste of the fruit, but rather for its stimulating effects. Ironically, caffeine which is found in the coffee cherry is actually the plant’s defense mechanism from pests.
I mentioned earlier that most of the time, the pulp and the seeds that are left behind once the coffee cherry is processed, are converted into compost to be used as fertilizer. However, in some cases, the cherries are dried and used to brew “tea”, famously known as Cascara tea.
For centuries in Ethiopia, the cherries have been dried to be brewed into a tea beverage known as Qishr. As coffee plants were brought by the Europeans from Africa to Central and South America, the dried coffee fruits became known as Cascara, meaning “husk” in Spanish.
Not many coffee farmers produce Cascara. At the coffee farm level, it requires the same level of attention to detail as producing coffee. The range of quality of Cascara varies across farmers as well. Coffee cherries that have been carefully cultivated, picked, and dried will lead to a better beverage once brewed.
Even though Cascara is produced from the coffee plant, it tastes nothing like roasted coffee.
It is brewed from dried fruits, so its flavor is more similar to herbal tea. That is why it is often referred to simply as the “coffee cherry tea”. Similar to herbal teas, cascara's shelf life is shorter than caffeinated teas.
The body, flavor profile, and acidity level of cascara are strongly influenced by the variety of coffee cherry, as well as where it was grown and picked, and how it was processed. In general, the flavor has a naturally sweet component to it that could be complimented by a floral or tangy component. The way cascara tastes is also influenced by how it's brewed.
Some coffee houses use cascara to add a new twist to specialty coffee drinks.
Did you know that using the coffee cherry rather than discarding it is not only better for the environment, but also has a number of nutrition and health benefits?
Here are some coffee fruit products that the coffee cherry can be used:
Coffee Cherry Juice: Even though eating coffee cherries is not very common, a Hawaiian-based company has recently launched the sale of coffee cherry juice. The company states that the fruit is full of nutrients and provides a range of health benefits to consumers, such as anti-inflammatory properties or boosting brain function.
Coffee Berry Powders and Extracts: Other companies around make green coffee fruit extracts. Coffee fruit extract boasts many health benefits. It may help with weight reduction, it may potentially lessen the risk of heart disease or strokes, and it may help protect the brain (1). Coffee fruit concentrate can be found in powder or liquid form.
Food: Some creative coffee producers have also learned to use coffee cherries to produce a variety of products, such as chocolate, butter, and even sorbet, taking coffee-based recipes to the next level.
Skincare: Coffee cherries are now being used by skincare companies due to their antioxidant properties, which can help maintain a youthful appearance. In fact, the National Institute of Health has ranked the coffee cherry antioxidant levels as ten times those of green tea or pomegranate.
Coffee cherries are grown in many countries in Africa, South America, and Asia. The two shrubs that are grown for coffee cherries are coffea robusta and coffea arabica.
Raw coffee cherries may be difficult to find in stores, since they make their way to grocery store shelves once they have been processed to become coffee beans.
You could technically eat raw coffee cherries, because they are ultimately fruit and they are not harmful or poisonous.
Coffee cherry fruits aren’t poisonous, but all the other parts of the plant are. They are toxic to humans, cats, dogs, birds, and other animals.
Coffee beans get their famous coffee flavor when they are roasted. Prior to that, the coffee cherry tastes nothing like regular roasted coffee.
A ripe coffee cherry doesn’t taste bad at all! It is both sweet and fresh at the same time, almost like an apricot was mixed with a watermelon.
Yes they do, as it is their defense mechanism against pests. The whole coffee cherry, including the seed, is high in antioxidants and contains caffeine. That is why when the seeds are roasted, you get that heavenly caffeinated drink.
Yes, you can eat roasted coffee grounds for the stimulating effect. In fact, chewing the roasted coffee grounds is a lot more efficient than brewing it (though it doesn’t taste quite as good).
Yes, you can chew on coffee beans, but be careful. If the beans are roasted lightly, they can be very dense. On the other hand, dark roast coffee beans are more brittle and easy to chew. Avoid chewing unroasted coffee, as it is super hard and could hurt your teeth.
The truth is, not every coffee lover knows what a coffee cherry is and where the coffee bean comes from. Even I didn’t know until recently, and I worked as a Starbucks Barista for a while… Haha!
Now, that you have a better understanding of the coffee cherry mystery, you can try a few new ways of consuming coffee: Cascara, Coffee Cherry Juice, or Skincare Products are all great ways to look at your favorite drink from a new perspective!