Complete Guide To The Rare & Curious Peaberry Coffee Bean

In the college class that never was, Coffee Beans 101 (or Peaberry Coffee Beans 101 to keep things simple) we would have learned that the Coffea tree is an evergreen that can grow to over 20 feet in height.

Normally, though, farmers keep coffee trees around 8-10 feet.

The trees are encouraged to grow wider with proper pruning and skillful shaping.

Today, we’re accustomed to seeing the tree’s edible red fruits referred to as the cherry in images online or our favorite coffee shop.

They are typically red and grow in bunches.

(As an aside, coffee cherries themselves are mild in flavor and slightly sweet if eaten raw.)

Coffee cherries, perhaps unsurprisingly, have been labeled a superfood.

Science has backed the idea.

In fact, the flesh of the cherry possesses anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and anti-viral properties, while packing 8 times the antioxidant power of blueberries.

Who knew?

unripe coffee cherries
Image Credit: Kicking Horse Coffee

Peaberry Coffee Bean Characteristics 101

Peaberry coffee, or “Caracol” in Spanish, is different than traditional coffee.

During the maturation process of the cherry, two half-moon shaped coffee beans develop insider the coffee cherry. In very few cases — only about 5% — one bean fails to develop.

Instead, the cherry produces a single pea-shaped bean.

Without the pressure from another bean, causing them to be flat on one side and round on the other, Peaberry beans are smaller, rounded and more dense.

The Anatomy of a Coffee Bean

A coffee bean is made up of the following parts:

  • Bean: Seed from which you ultimately drink coffee
  • Silverskin: Outermost layer that wraps the seed
  • Parchment: Hull that envelops the coffee bean
  • Mucilage: Flesh of the coffee fruit
  • Pulp: Outermost layer of the coffee fruit
anatomy of a coffee bean
A cross-section of a typical coffee bean. Image Credit: Seattle Coffee Works

Roasting Peaberry Coffee Beans

Whereas a half-moon shaped bean may lay flat or haphazardly bounce around during roasting, a rounded bean tends to stay in motion on the heat source. This makes it unlikely to burn on one side.

However, farmers once discarded the Peaberry beans altogether as they roasted differently than traditional beans!

Roasting methods have obviously improved.

To some, this weighs rather significantly in the reputation of Peaberry coffee quality.

For all these reasons, Peaberry coffee beans are separated from the rest of the harvest and sold as a unique commodity.

Peaberry Coffee Bean Flavor Profile 101

The natural mutation of a Peaberry coffee bean is definitely unique in some respects, and it has earned itself some high-praise namesakes, including The Champagne of Coffee Beans.

So, does the Peaberry coffee bean actually taste differently?

Folklore (and marketing) definitely plays a part in the reputation.

Many aficionados claim that the Peaberry’s superior flavors are due to the bean’s consolidation — that this causes a single Peaberry bean to pack more of a refined punch.

The scientific community has not backed this particular claim, but it certainly sounds intriguing.

To my palate, Peaberry coffee doesn’t necessarily taste better than traditional beans, but there are some noticeable differences in flavor.

As always, it’s a matter of perspective.

The example I tasted can be found here, Stone Street’s Tanzanian Peaberry variety.

I agree with Kenneth Davids, coffee connoisseur, and find Peaberry to be lighter in body, even in comparison to normal cherries of the same tree.

It struck me as a bit more acidic on the nose and offered a bright, rich flavor.

So how would I summarize Peaberry coffee? Brighter and lighter!

Interestingly, Peaberry coffee beans are ubiquitous among the coffee growing regions, meaning that they can grow anywhere.

Peaberry Coffee Bean Preparation 101

As it turns out, Peaberry beans only grow on the outer branches of the Coffea tree, which may contribute to their abnormality.

One theory is that the weather causes the change to occur, as the beans are more exposed to the elements.

In either case, the Peaberry doesn’t occur due to genetics — farmers would simply breed the abnormality out of (or into) existence.

As mentioned previously, Peaberry coffee beans were once discarded because their shape caused them to roast incorrectly.

It likely took some trial and error to figure out that the beans needed to be separated and treated with more care.

peaberry coffee beans up close
A close-up look at Peaberry beans. Image credit: Wikipedia.

The rounded shape of the beans meant that they cooked more evenly, as they can roll around the heating surface with ease.

A runt no more!

A slow and steady roasting method typically wins the day here.

As for preparation, farmers hand-sort the Peaberry coffee beans to separate them from the regular half-moon ones.

Peaberry beans can be wet-processed (washed), dry-processed (natural, no washing), along with a few lesser-known methods, depending on the region.

Purchasing Peaberry Coffee Beans 101

The Peaberry abnormality can occur in coffee of any origin.

This means that there is likely a batch available in your favorite region, if you’ve narrowed that down thus far.

If not, check out our deep dives into some of the major coffee growing countries:

When shopping for coffee beans, consider these four different flavor profiles:

Fun fact: The most expensive coffee in the world is Kopi Luwak, which is collected after the Indonesian Palm Civet (a cute, cat-like animal) finishes digesting the cherries. Kopi Luwak can sell for $1,500 per pound!

Final Thoughts On Peaberry Coffee Beans

Finally, a single question remains: Is Peaberry Coffee better than regular coffee?

The answer, in a word, is no.

Peaberry coffee is certainly special, and worthy of pursuit if the idea of trying exotic, rare coffee is of interest.

The bottom line, though, is that your taste buds may not react much differently than when you’re trying any number of other coffees, be they artisanal, regional, or otherwise.

Peaberry coffee is certainly special in the sense that it’s separated from other beans and they are prepared with more care (hence the price difference one can likely expect).

To put this in perspective, here are some stats:

  • A typical coffee tree has an annual yield of 1-2 pounds of roasted coffee.
  • It takes 2,000 cherries (5 pounds) to produce 1 pound of roasted coffee.
  • Remember, only 5% of those (100 cherries, 0.25 pound) are Peaberry coffee beans!
  • In 1 year, a 2-cup-a-day drinker of coffee will consume the annual harvest of 18 coffee trees.

This is a big reason that Peaberry coffee beans are special.

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