Coffee beans undergo a significant journey before they resemble the roasted beans we use to make our morning espressos.
Have you ever wondered where coffee comes from what does it look like?
Coffee is an organic product that starts as a small seed, grows into a tree, blossoms with flowers until it develops coffee cherries.
What do these cherries look like, can you eat them, do they contain caffeine, and is there any other use for the cherries apart from extracting coffee beans?
Read this article to find out the answers to these questions as well as whether you can substitute your morning coffee for the coffee cherry tea?
What Is A Coffee Cherry?
We know coffee as an intense flavorful brown dark bitter liquid or even as a sweet indulgent creamy latte, but the brown beans originate from a coffee fruit known as a coffee cherry.
What Does A Coffee Plant Look Like?
The coffee plants are grown at plantations around the world, with the ideal environment between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, also known as the “Bean Belt”.
The trees average between 5 and 10m (16-33 ft) in height and are typically grown a few feet apart from each other, ideally in nutritious volcanic soils at high altitudes with heavy rainfall.
What Is Coffee Fruit?
The coffee plant bears white fragrant blossoms that then turn into green coffee cherries which then gradually turn pink and red as they ripen, which ensures a better flavour of the final coffee product.
When the cherries are ready to be picked, the skin and pulp are removed and they go through one of the three coffee processing methods, the washed, natural or honey method, depending on the plantation.
Can You Eat Coffee Cherries?
You might be asking yourself, why don’t we utilise the whole coffee bean cherry and eat the fruit as well as roasting the beans inside?
The truth is that while you can eat the coffee cherry, it is quite small and consists mostly of skin and seeds, rather than any edible flesh, as is the case with the actual cherries.
The skin of the coffee bean fruit is rough, hard and bitter and the pulp sticks to the seeds and is quite slimy.
But you can eat it. In fact, some animals do, with Kopi Luwak coffee being one of the most well-known examples.
The Asian palm civet first eats the coffee cherries, which then make their way through the animal’s digestive system, before the beans are processed and roasted.
Even though you can eat coffee cherries and they taste good, as well as are quite fragrant, you wouldn’t have much flesh to bite into, which means the cherry offers no real nutritional value.
Are Coffee Beans Fruit Pits?
That’s right. The coffee beans that hide underneath the flesh of the coffee cherry, are the pips that hide inside the fruit, and belong to the stone fruit category,
The cherries are mild, sweet and fragrant, just like jasmine or rose water, and some farmers say that they can predict the taste of the coffee, based on the cherries.
While most coffee cherries contain two stones with their flat sides sticking together, which form the shape of the coffee bean we are familiar with, some cherries only contain a single seed.
This coffee is known as peaberry variety and has a sweeter and more flavourful taste.
Different Coffee Plants
Arabica coffee comes from the Coffea Arabica plant from Ethiopia, has flat and long beans and tastes mild and aromatic.
Arabica beans are lower in caffeine and are grown in cooler climates than Robusta at around 15-24 degrees Celcius.
70% of the world’s coffee supply comes from the Arabica coffee plant.
Robusta coffee comes from the Coffea Canephora plant, which grows mainly in Africa, Southeast Asia and Brazil.
Robusta beans are small, round, are grown in warmer temperatures, at around 24-30 degrees Celsius, and contain 50-60% more caffeine than Arabica.
Robusta is mostly used in blends, for instant coffee, or for high-caffeine blends. It makes up only 30% of the world’s coffee supply.
There are two other lesser-known coffee plant species suitable for consumption, Coffea Liberica and Coffea Racemosa, but these are not very common.
Where Does The Caffeine Come From?
The main reason most people consume coffee is for the stimulating effects of caffeine. So where does a simple tree get these powerful properties?
Interestingly, caffeine occurs in coffee cherries as the natural defence of the plant from pests.
Therefore, the caffeine levels are actually higher in unroasted coffee, which is why the light roast contains more caffeine than the dark roasted coffee.
Does Coffee Fruit Extract Have Caffeine?
If you want to skip the middle man and consume caffeine directly from the coffee plant rather than from your morning brew, while coffee fruit extract contains some caffeine, when compared to coffee, the amount is very low.
Coffee fruit extract contains 4.4mg of caffeine per 1g serving. When compared to a double espresso, which can contain up to 120mg of caffeine, the caffeine boost is quite insignificant.
Coffee, however, offers other benefits apart from the stimulating caffeine kick, and the extract has a high antioxidant capacity, which can be a great alternative for non-coffee consumers who want to enjoy the benefits of the coffee plant without its jittery effects.
Utilising The Flesh: Cascara Tea
Since the flesh and skin of the coffee cherry aren’t ideal for human consumption, the sad truth is that most of the coffee fruit gets thrown away.
The remains from the coffee cherry fruit can be also used for making Cascara tea.
Cascara, which means “husk” in Spanish, is made by steeping the dried coffee cherries in hot water, typically using 5g of cascara per 100ml of water.
Cascara tea doesn’t taste like coffee, since most of the coffee’s flavours come from the roasting process and has much lower levels of caffeine, similar to tea. It has a very mild, sweet refreshing taste and is full of antioxidants.
The remains of the coffee cherries are also occasionally used in cosmetics, chocolate, sorbets or for cascara-flavoured sugar syrups.
However, drying the cherries can be labour-intensive for the farmers, and since there is still little demand for it, most of the leftover coffee cherries tend to go to waste or are used by the farmers as a fertilizer.
Where To Buy Coffee Fruit?
If you want to explore the taste of the coffee cherry, cascara tea, or cascara lattes, they can be found at some specialty cafes.
The coffee franchises, Starbucks and Blue Bottle Coffee, have both added cascara drinks to their menu.
While the cherries are full of antioxidants, they are also prone to mould, so buying them from reliable sources is crucial.