Are Coffee Beans Actually Considered Real Beans? – BaristaHQ

Almost everyone you know drinks coffee. This beverage has become a significant part of our daily lives. But only a few know what coffee actually is. One of the common notions about coffee is that it’s a bean, given its name. But is coffee a bean? Or is this a misconception?

To help you, we will discuss what coffee beans are if they’re actually beans, and other important facts you need to know about your favorite morning drink.

It's not really surprising that many people think that a coffee bean is actually a bean. However, while its shape and size may be similar to many beans, it's not a bean. The term bean may have been used for years now, but it's still a mystery when and why the term was used to describe it.

But why isn't it a bean when it's called as such and looks like one? Well, to answer this question, we need to first discuss what a bean is. A bean is a seed of a legume plant. Legumes are plants that bear fruit inside a pod, like chickpeas, peanuts, lima beans, peas, and more. While all beans are seeds, not all seeds are beans.

So, if a seed doesn’t grow into a legume plant, it’s not considered actual beans, regardless of whether it looks like one. It can be confusing, we know. But the easiest way to remember this is that beans are from legume plants, and coffee plants are not part of the legume family.

Are Coffee Beans Actually Considered Real Beans? – BaristaHQ

So Then, What IS A Coffee Bean? (The Answer Revealed)

The coffee beans we use for our cup of joe are not a bean; it's actually the seed of a fruit. Coffee plants bear fruits called coffee cherries, which carry the beans we roast, grind and brew. 

Naturally, coffee trees can grow to up to 30 ft. However, most farmers prune and stump these coffee trees to conserve their energy, which will help in harvesting.

Coffee Trees

A smaller coffee tree often has better yield and quality, even in a limited space, compared to larger coffee trees. A coffee plant is covered with green, waxy leaves that grow in pairs, bearing fruits that grow along its branches.

Depending on the variety of coffee plants, it will take three to four years for a plant to produce fruit.

According to the National Coffee Association USA, an average coffee tree can produce up to 10 lbs of fruit per year, which yields around 2 lbs of green beans. [1]

Each fruit that comes from the plant carries two beans. However, some can only have one seed. A single seed fruit is known to produce a stronger, richer flavor than those coming from multiple seeds.

Coffee Cherries

The fruit of the coffee, also called a coffee cherry, is edible. However, they are not commercially marketed for consumption since farmers usually throw them out to get the coffee beans from them.

It is also important to note that while the fruit is called the coffee cherry, it is not in any way related to cherries. The only common thing between them is that they are both drupes or stone fruits, but that’s pretty much it.

The coffee plant bears red or purple fruit when ripe and comes in various species and varieties; each produces a different kind of flavor. Purple fruits are often rare, since most of the fruits the plant bears are red. 

In general, coffee cherries grow in clusters along the branches of the plant. The coffee cherry can grow as big as the size of a small grape. While unripe, these fruits are green in color and can turn red, purple, yellow, or orange once it matures.

Types Of Coffee Beans

The final color of the coffee cherries depends on the variety of the plants, but most of the plants in the world produce red coffee cherries.

There are four different varieties of coffee beans: Arabica beans, Robusta beans, Liberica beans, and Excelsa beans. The most popular beans are Robusta and Arabica, with Arabica dominating 60% of the world’s coffee. [2]

These species grow in various regions, with some found in high elevations and others in lower altitudes. The most expensive coffee is found in the Coffea Arabica species, produced in tropical countries in Southeast Asia, South America, and others. Cheaper coffees, like instant coffees, are made from the Robusta species, since they do not produce good quality.

However, some Robusta plants can produce higher-quality coffee. These plants also have higher disease resistance compared to Arabica; that's why they're cheaper to grow.

Coffee Science

Before roasting, coffee beans are green. Green coffee beans or coffee seeds are harvested from coffee cherries and are dried until they are ready. Once ready, coffee beans will undergo a roasting process that will turn them from green to dark brown.

The caffeine content and taste of the beans depends on the roasting process; that's why roasted beans marketed commercially are labeled depending on how they are processed.

In a nutshell, coffee beans are the seeds of coffee cherries. They're not beans, even if they are a seed of a fruit. They are also not berries, just in case you're wondering if "are coffee beans berries" like others who also mistaken the fruit as one.


What Food Category Does Coffee Fall Under?

If you’re curious where coffee falls into the food category, the answer is not as simple as you think. While coffee cherry is considered a stone fruit or drupe, it’s not the same as the coffee bean inside it. Farmers don’t really use the coffee fruit to make your favorite morning beverage, so this should be out of the equation.

Next, we need to discuss the common misconceptions about coffee. First, coffee beans are not a type of nut. Nuts often have a tough shell around the kernel or the edible part. The coffee cherry is a fleshy fruit with thin layer; there’s nothing tough about its external layer. It is also not a vegetable, and that’s pretty much easy to understand.

The plant itself is a fruit, but the fruit isn't what we consume, so we should not categorize it as such. The coffee beans are the seeds inside the fruits. So overall, they don't really fall into a particular category like fruit or vegetable.

black coffee and coffee beans

Frequently Asked Coffee Bean Questions

Are coffee beans seeds?

Yes, they are! Coffee beans come from the seeds of the coffee fruit.

Why are coffee beans not considered a fruit?

The fruit of the plant is not what we consume but the seeds of the coffee beans. This makes it a seed and not a fruit.

Why are coffee beans not considered nuts?

Nuts have a tough exterior layer, and the coffee cherries have a thin skin.

Can you eat coffee beans?

Yes, they are safe to consume but make sure to eat them in moderation.

Which type of bean is not actually a bean?

People are often surprised that a green bean is not actually a bean. The fruit of the green bean plant is a pod, so it's actually just a legume.


Conclusion

Don’t be fooled by the name of coffee beans! While they may look like one, coffee beans are not technically beans.

They are the seeds of the coffee cherries, which makes them seeds, not beans, nuts, fruits, berries, or other things that you might hear from others. Hopefully, we have cleared this misconception!

References:

1. https://www.ncausa.org/about-coffee/what-is-coffee

2. https://downloads.usda.library.cornell.edu/usda-esmis/files/m900nt40f/6m3129089/r494w654j/coffee.pdf