The common conception of coffee is that of a dark, bitter, and caffeinated beverage that is derived from brown beans. Here’s the truth – technically, coffee beans aren’t beans. They are seeds from a fruit.
So, grab a cup of your favourite brew as we pick out some rich and tasty facts about the coffee cherry.
1. Did you know that coffee is a fruit?
Surprise, surprise! You may or may not have known that coffee grows on a tree, and the beans are in fact, the pit of a fruit. That fruit largely resembles a cherry, which gives it its name – coffee cherry.
2. The anatomy of a coffee cherry
The cherry’s exterior is hard and waxy, with a juicy flesh lining the interior. Underneath that lining lies the pulp, which resembles the pulps of an orange. It has a slimy texture but contains complex sugars that provide sustenance for the cherry.
Once you open up the pulp, you will find two seeds that are protected by a paper-like layer, which will come off during processing. Once the seeds are roasted, they will transform into the brown coffee beans that we are all familiar with.
3. How is a coffee tree planted?
As long as the bean is not processed, it can be planted to grow into a coffee tree. There are four main coffee bean-growing regions around the world: Central America, South America, Africa and Indonesia.
Known as the Coffee Belt, these regions share a tropical climate and have rich environments that support the growth of coffee trees.
Coffee seeds are generally planted in well-shaded nurseries and watered frequently. Planting the seedlings usually takes place during wet seasons, so that the soil remains moist while the roots grow.
During the growth stage, the tree undergoes countless pruning to produce riper cherries, which lead to better-tasting coffee.
4. What does a coffee tree look like?
Coffee trees can grow up to 9 metres high. They have shiny, dark green, ovate leaves that grow opposite each other in an alternate fashion.
Clusters of cherries will begin to appear just days after fragrant white flowers bloom. Once the cherries are ripe, they turn from green to a deep crimson, signifying that they are ready for harvesting.
5. How long does it take before it can be harvested?
Depending on the variety of the coffee tree, it takes about five years for it to reach maturity.
In most coffee-producing countries, there is only one major harvest a year, which can last 4-6 months.
6. How much coffee does a tree produce?
On average, a coffee tree has a lifespan of 25 years and yields 0.5-1kg of roasted coffee each year. To put that into perspective, it takes roughly 2,000 cherries to produce 0.5kg of roasted coffee.
Furthermore, if a person consumes one cup of coffee each day, that amounts to an annual harvest of nine coffee trees!
7. Can you eat a coffee cherry?
Yes, you can eat a coffee cherry since it is a fruit. But there’s a reason why eating coffee cherries is almost unheard of. Its skin is as tough as a shell and there’s barely any flesh to savour.
Nonetheless, the coffee cherry is a hot favourite amongst some animals. You’ve probably heard of Kopi Luwak, which is a by-product of Asian palm civets who ingest and defecate these cherries.
On top of that, Black Ivory, the world’s rarest coffee, is also produced in the same way by elephants. Read more about it here.
8. Does a coffee cherry taste like coffee?
The aroma and flavour of a cup of coffee are developed only after roasting the beans. Therefore, the answer is no, a coffee cherry doesn’t taste like coffee.
But as long as you pick a ripe coffee cherry, it tastes as sweet as honey. Moreover, depending on the variety of the coffee tree, some cherries taste like mangos or berries.