Coffee beans are what make it possible for coffee lovers to enjoy their favorite morning cup of Joe. Coffee beans are typically ground into various grinding consistencies before adding them to your coffee maker to brew coffee.
Whether you prefer pour-over coffee, espresso-based drinks, French press coffee, or drip coffee, you need ground coffee beans to brew coffee. But what are coffee beans? Where do they come from? In this article, we will tell you everything about coffee beans.
The Coffee Tree
Understanding what coffee beans are requires you to learn where they come from. Essentially, coffee beans are seeds contained in fruits known as cherries. Coffee cherries are products of a type of bush tree or shrub known as the Coffea plant.
It is believed that the coffee plant was first discovered by a legendary Ethiopian goat herder around 850 AD. Large-scale production of coffee started in the 17th century. At this time, the coffee plant found its way from the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen to India, Europe, and East Africa. The coffee plant found its way to the Caribbean and South America in the 18th century. Commercial sales of roasted coffee beans started about 100 years later.
The coffee tree looks like a grapevine or berry bush tree. Coffee trees grow quite tall. Most coffee plants feature waxy and rich, dark green leaves. Sometimes, the color may feature a yellow or purple hue. Today, there are many varieties of coffee plants, with the most common ones being Arabica coffee plants and Robusta coffee plants.
So What Are Coffee Beans?
Coffee beans are the two seeds found in a single cherry. In rare cases, a coffee cherry can produce one seed known as a peaberry. Since coffee plants are flowering plants, they produce fruits, which are known as coffee cherries.
A coffee cherry usually has several layers of skin covering the coffee beans. The outermost layer is the cherry skin, with another layer of skin below it known as the mesocarp or pulp. The pulp has an inner layer known as mucilage. A pectin layer is found beneath the mucilage. These layers contain sugars that are essential during the coffee fermentation process.
After coffee cherries are harvested, they undergo processing to remove the multiple layers of skin covering the coffee beans. The coffee beans are themselves covered by a thin skin referred to as the silverskin (epidermis) and another papery hull known as the parchment (endocarp). The silverskin falls off as chaff when roasting coffee beans.
The parchment is removed during a processing stage known as hulling. In this case, millstones or machines are used to remove all remaining parts of the fruit and the dry parchment. Sometimes, green coffee beans are sold with the parchment layer intact.
What are the Different Types of Coffee Beans?
There are many types of coffee beans you can find today, with the most common ones coming from Arabica and Robusta coffee plants. The Arabica coffee plant produces Arabica beans whereas the Robusta coffee plant produces Robusta beans.
Arabica Coffee Beans
Also known as Coffea Arabica, Arabica beans are the most popular coffee beans. They make up approximately 60 percent of the world’s supply of coffee beans. They are believed to be the first-ever consumed coffee beans, with their origin believed to be from the Ethiopian highlands.
However, Arabica beans are quite hard to grow, making them costlier than Robusta beans. While all coffees are grown within the Bean Belt (a region between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer), Arabica beans require extra water, shade, and higher altitude to thrive. They grow best at a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet above sea level. Also, Arabica plants are more susceptible to coffee plant diseases.
Nevertheless, Arabica beans are loved for their superior quality. They brew coffee with a smooth, complex flavor. They lack bitterness. Their tasting notes vary depending on their origin. Some popular notes of Arabica beans include earthy, floral, and fruity notes. Single-origin Arabica beans can give you the best coffee-tasting experience.
Robusta Coffee Beans
Also known as Coffea caniphora, Robusta coffee is the second most common variety of coffee beans. Robusta beans are believed to have originated in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. They are mostly grown in Indonesia and Africa. Robusta beans are often mixed into various coffee blends. They are generally less expensive than Arabica beans.
Robusta plants are usually taller than Arabica beans. They are more hardened and less susceptible to coffee diseases. They grow at lower altitudes and bear cherries whose beans are more rounded and larger than Arabica beans.
Coffee brewed with Robusta beans tastes more bitter and harsher. It often has a flat taste, and may sometimes taste burnt. On the positive side, Robusta beans have more caffeine than Arabica coffee beans. Thus, Robusta coffee can give you a quicker caffeine boost than Arabica.
Hopefully, we have answered the question on what are coffee beans. In conclusion, coffee beans are the seeds inside a coffee cherry. Coffee cherries are fruits of a large bush or shrub tree known as the coffee plant. Coffee beans are obtained after harvesting and processing coffee cherries. Today, you can choose between Robusta and Arabica coffee beans sourced from many coffee-growing countries across the world.