Are Coffee Beans Considered Legumes? What Exactly Are They

Coffee has become a significant part of many people's morning routine. But only a limited number of people know where coffee comes from. Yes, it’s common knowledge that it comes from coffee beans. So if it’s a bean, are coffee beans considered legumes? Or is it considered a nut? Unfortunately, even the most avid coffee drinkers don’t know this information. But don’t worry! We’re here to help.  

This article will discuss if coffee beans are considered legumes, what exactly they are, and other interesting facts you need to know about the coffee plant.  

Let’s settle this confusion right here. We know that the term “beans” in coffee beans can sometimes mislead people into thinking that the coffee plant is part of the legume family. But the short answer is no; it’s not. So you’re probably asking now,  why is it called beans if it’s not a legume?  

Well, to answer this question, we need to first break it into different parts. First, we will discuss what exactly a legume is. From there, you’ll have a clearer picture of why coffee beans aren’t considered legumes. So, let’s begin.  

Scientifically speaking, a legume refers to a plant that belongs to the family Fabaceae or Leguminosae. This term also refers to the fruit or seed of the plant, which is found inside a pod. Having seeds and fruits inside a pod is the most notable characteristic of a legume. Some of the most common legumes we use are peas, chickpeas, lentils, beans, soybeans, peanuts, tamarind, and more.  

One common thing legumes have is their beans or seeds are small and oval or kidney-shaped. This is why many assume that anything that looks like this is a bean, therefore, a legume. And this is where the confusion starts. Because of the term "bean," many people consider coffee beans legumes. But looking like a bean isn't what qualifies legumes as legumes. Instead, the plant should be part of the Leguminosae family. But is the coffee plant a part of them? The answer is no; it’s not.  

So, is there a way for people to distinguish what beans and legumes are? Fortunately, there is. The easiest way to do this is to check if the seed grows in a pod. Think of green beans and how you can find their seeds. To get the seeds, you need to break open a pod. So, if you’re familiar with the coffee cherry, you’ll know that the beans don’t grow in a pod, which is a giveaway that it’s not part of the legume family.  

Are Coffee Beans Considered Legumes? What Exactly Are They

So, What’s A Coffee Bean Then? (Let’s Find Out Its Classification) 

Now that we’ve settled on whether a coffee bean is a legume or not, we will now break other misconceptions about it. Another common impression about it is that it is a nut. While it's not nuts to think about this, it's incorrect information. Nuts are fruits with a tough nutshell protecting the usually edible kernel. Some of the famous nuts are pecans, hazelnuts, and acorns.  

If you have to break the outer shell to take out the seed or kernel, it’s called a nut. But coffee beans come from a coffee cherry that’s soft, and you don’t need to use force to crack it open to get the bean. This means that coffee is not a nut. Now, let’s move on to the next.  

Some people debate that coffee is a vegetable, given that vegetables come in various shapes, sizes, and species. At the same time, beans like lima beans and black beans belong to the vegetable group, which makes coffee beans part of that group too, right? Well, the answer is no, it is not a vegetable, and there’s no explanation necessary.  

Another question that most people are curious about is whether the coffee bean is the plant's fruit. The coffee plant bears fruits. This fruit turns red when ripe, sometimes yellow or purple depending on its variety of other factors, and contains a seed inside. However, the fruit is not the coffee bean.  

coffee beans spilled from mug

The coffee beans are the seeds inside the fruit. But even though the coffee plant bears edible fruits, we don’t usually consume them as farmers throw them once they extract the seeds from them. The fruit itself doesn’t have much value, and the beans are the most crucial part of the plant.  

At the same time, even if you want to eat the fruit of the coffee plant, there is little to none left once the bean matures. The coffee bean to fruit ratio is pretty high; that’s why farmers throw the fruit out right after the beans are extracted.  

One last thing we need to settle is the argument that the coffee bean is a berry. This comes from the small cherry-like fruits that coffee plants bear. In some areas, these fruits are called berries. However, they are not. A berry is a fleshy fruit that doesn’t have a pit in its center. Some examples of berries are bananas, cucumbers, and eggplants. If this confuses you more, just think of grapes and tomatoes. The coffee fruit has a pit in the center, so it is not a berry.  

So what exactly is a coffee bean? Simple. It is the seed of the coffee plant. Again, it is not a legume, a nut, a vegetable, a fruit, or a berry. There’s no more argument to that.  


Coffee Plants - Interesting Facts You Need To Know!

So now that you know what a coffee bean is, we’ll give you some exciting information about the coffee plant and its fruit.  

There are various coffee plant species, but the most popular one is Arabica coffee, covering almost 70% of the coffee production. Arabica coffee plants prefer tropical climates, especially near the equator. This is why you can find the best Arabica coffee from countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and India. These countries are also the largest producer of Arabica coffee in the world.  

There are also Robusta and Liberica species growing all over the world, but they are less common than Arabica and often don’t produce the same quality of beans. So, if you haven’t been checking what species of coffee beans you have at home, maybe it’s time for you to familiarize yourself with them and taste their differences. Remember, not all coffee beans come from the same plant, and each plant provides a unique taste and experience.  

Another interesting part of the coffee plant is the fruit. The coffee cherries grow as big as a marble and often have two seeds. However, rare species produce fruit with only one seed, and many believe this species makes better-tasting coffee.  

coffee fruit

But most coffee cherries and the common ones they use have two seeds. Each of these seeds has an epidermis, the silver skin around it. It also has an endocarp, a surrounding parchment layer. This hard layer is the thin covering that sets drupe fruits apart from berries. Then, there’s the pectin layer, the juicy pulp or mesocarp, and the mesocarp or outer skin covering the whole fruit.  

The fruit may look like a berry, but as we’ve established, it isn’t a berry. So what exactly is it? Botanists classify fruits through their three main layers: endocarp, mesocarp, and exocarp. Berries have a soft endocarp around the seed, which coffee fruit doesn't have. On the other hand, drupes have a hard protective layer. Going back, coffee's endocarp is tough, making them a drupe. Interesting, isn’t it? 


Frequently Asked Coffee Bean & Legumes Questions 

Which beans are not legumes?  

Apart from coffee beans, another “bean” that isn’t a legume is cocoa beans. Like coffee, the beans in them are the seeds of the fruit.  

Are coffee beans nuts or beans? 

None of them. Coffee beans are the seed of the fruit on coffee plants.  

Where did beans and legumes originate from? 

According to scientific studies, beans and legumes first appeared 59 million years ago. Both of them come from the Fabaceae or Leguminosae plant family.   


Conclusion

There are so many misconceptions about coffee, and many people are having difficulties figuring out what to believe. Hopefully, this guide has cleared many of those and settled many arguments about coffee beans. Just remember, even though they’re called beans, they are not legumes. Coffee beans simply refer to the seed found in the fruit of the coffee plant.