What Is A Coffee Cherry? Everything You Need To Know

everything you need to know about the coffee cherry

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Every day, millions of people around the world wake up and brew a hot cup of coffee to start their morning. But have you ever wondered where coffee beans actually come from? Surprisingly, your morning cup o’ joe starts its journey as a fruit!

Coffee beans grow inside a bright red or purple fruit known as the coffee cherry. These small fruits grow on special coffee plants and play a critical role in global coffee production.

In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the unique fruit that gives us one of the world’s most beloved brewed beverages – from what coffee cherries taste like to how they turn into the beans we can’t live without.

After reading, you’ll never look at your daily coffee the same again!

✔ Quick Answer

A coffee cherry is a small, red-purple stone fruit that grows on coffee plants and contains the seeds we know as coffee beans inside its sweet pulp. This fruit plays a vital role in coffee production, developing from a blossom into a ripe olive-shaped cherry selectively harvested and processed to extract the beans we roast and brew.

What Exactly is a Coffee Cherry?

As I mentioned earlier, coffee beans start their life inside a fruit grown on special coffee plants. This fruit is called the coffee cherry.

You may be wondering…if it’s called a cherry, why does it contain beans? That’s an excellent question! 

Despite having the word “cherry” in its name and resembling a cherry, the coffee cherry is technically a stone fruit, like a peach or plum.

At first glance, you’ll notice the olive-shaped coffee cherry looks nothing like the vibrant red sweet cherry you’d find in a fruit salad. Ranging in color from bright red to deep purple when ripe, these small fruits measure around 1 cm wide and contain the coffee beans we know and love.

The anatomy of a coffee cherry consists of a thin, smooth outer skin enveloping a sweet and tart pulp layer filled with caffeine and antioxidants. Underneath lies a parchment-like protective lining encasing one or two coffee beans. 

These beans are the seeds of the fruit, just like peach pits inside a peach.

know about coffee fruit diagram

Where Do Coffee Cherries Grow

Coffee cherries grow along the branches of coffee plants in tropical climates with rich soil, such as Central America and parts of Africa and Asia. 

Though we refer to the coffee plant as the “coffee tree”, it is technically a small fruit shrub that produces coffee cherries. Depending on the variety, an average coffee tree yields around 10 pounds of red coffee cherries per year.

There Are Two Main Types of Coffee Plants

While there are over 120 species of coffee plants, virtually all of the world’s coffee production comes from just two: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora, known as Robusta.

Arabica produces a smooth, richly flavored coffee and accounts for around 60% of the world’s coffee. 

Meanwhile, the hardy Robusta plant has a higher caffeine content and a more bitter, earthy taste. It makes up the remaining 40% of global coffee production.

▶ If you want to know more about these two common types of coffee, make sure to read this article: Arabica versus Robusta Beans

No matter which coffee plant they grow on, coffee cherries play a vital yet often overlooked role in that beloved cup of java so many of us need to start our day.

From Coffee Seed To Ripe Coffee Cherry Harvesting

Now that you know what coffee cherries are and where they grow, let’s look at how these fruits develop and get harvested.

Understanding the journey of the coffee cherry gives you a greater appreciation for each cup of coffee you drink.

Flowering and Coffee Berry Fruit

It all begins when the coffee plant produces delicate white flowers across its branches. Bees play matchmaker and pollinate these blooms. If successful, the fertilized flowers transform into tiny green pebbles after around 4-5 months. 

coffee plant is a fruit but flowers first

Don’t let looks deceive you though – these little green balls will eventually mature into the coffee cherries.

Over the next few months, the growing coffee cherries transition from green to yellow and finally to a ripe red or deep purple. Similar to cherries you’d find at the grocery store, coffee cherries signal peak ripeness through vibrant, eye-catching colors. 

Consistent tropical temperatures, steady rainfall, rich volcanic soil, and partly shaded mountainsides allow the cherries to thrive as they ripen.

Hand-Picking Only the Best Cherries

Coffee farmers carefully monitor their crops for that perfect balance of bright color and firm feel, indicating ripeness. 

Unlike commercial cherries harvested by machines, specialty coffee cherries are selectively hand-picked to ensure only the fully ripe fruits make it off the tree. Workers traverse hilly coffee plantations daily, methodically plucking the flawless cherries at their peak and placing them into shoulder baskets.

Selective harvesting is extremely labor-intensive but guarantees that your daily cup originates from premium coffee cherries allowed to fully mature on the branch. 

This level of personalized care epitomizes the dedication of coffee growers seeking to produce the best-tasting brews. 

So next time you sip your morning coffee, consider the long journey those little fruits made from faraway hillsides into your cup!

After Picking: Processing Begins

The journey isn’t over once workers finish selectively hand-picking the ripe coffee cherries.

Next comes removing the outer fruit layers to access the beans locked inside, drying the raw beans, and finally, roasting to bring out the coffee’s delicious flavor.

Removing the Fruity Flesh

After harvest, the coffee cherries get processed at the mill located on the farm itself. Workers first clean any debris like leaves and dirt off the cherries.

Next, machines remove the outer skin and fruity pulp surrounding the beans. This can be done by the dry or wet method.

The dry method uses the sun and wind to dry the whole fruit, allowing the skin and flesh to naturally flake off. 

dried coffee beans natural processing method by hand

Meanwhile, the wet method removes the outer fruit by pressing or soaking the cherry first. Either way, the end goal is to separate clean, raw coffee beans from their fruity protectant.

Preparing the Raw Green Beans

Once freed from the dried cherry coating, workers thoroughly clean the beans to remove any remaining sticky residue or slimy parchment pieces.

This prepares them for export across the world as “green coffee beans” – unroasted raw beans that resemble dried green peas.

To maintain freshness and prevent mold growth during transport and storage, the moisture level of the beans drops to about 10-12%. Controlling humidity ensures your coffee reaches you in peak quality for roasting and brewing.

Roasting Adds Flavor

The raw green beans have no taste – all the delicious coffee flavor develops during roasting! 

Through carefully controlled high heat, the starches and sugars in the beans caramelize into over 800 flavor compounds. The timing and temperature of the roast determine if your morning cup will have light, medium, or dark notes like chocolate and nuts. 

Pretty incredible knowing your coffee originated from a humble little fruit!

So, What Do Coffee Cherries Taste Like?

After learning all about coffee cherries, you may be wondering – what does this fruit actually taste like? Do coffee cherries deliver the same rich, robust flavor that makes coffee so addictive?

While it lacks the complexity of brewed coffee, the coffee cherry does have its own unique sweet-tart taste when ripe. 

Imagine taking a bite of a fresh cherry right off the tree, followed by hints of plum, apple, and citrus. The best way to describe it is like a hybrid between a cherry, grape, and cranberry.

Compared to the bitter, earthy taste you’d expect from a coffee bean, the interior fruit pulp surrounding the beans tastes pleasantly sweet and fruity. The skin provides a hint of herbal bitterness to balance the sweetness.

Thanks to its high antioxidant content, eating coffee cherries also offers potential health benefits like lowered inflammation and blood sugar levels. 

Their refreshing flavor makes coffee cherries popular for:

  • Juices – Single varietal coffee cherry juice provides tart, light refreshment.
  • Teas – Dried coffee cherry skins get steeped into a tea-like hibiscus, called Cascara. It has delicate fruity herbal notes.
  • Craft beverages – Coffee cherries get infused into carbonated drinks, spirits, wine, soda, and more for a caffeine kick.

You can Snack on Fresh Coffee Cherries

If you ever get the chance to visit a coffee farm, definitely sample some ripe cherries right off the tree! 

I’ll never forget the times I got to pop freshly harvested coffee cherries into my mouth. Beyond the unique flavor, feeling that thin skin bursting to release sweet juice took my appreciation for this humble fruit to another level.

Most people don’t have easy access to freshly harvested coffee cherries. But you can actually purchase dried, preserved whole coffee fruit or frozen pulp online. 

Just don’t expect it to taste quite as magical as the ones straight from the branch!

Conclusion

As you can see, the unique coffee cherry plays a vital behind-the-scenes role in bringing us one of the world’s most popular brewed beverages.

So while we tend to take our morning cup of joe for granted, we really have Mother Nature and coffee cherries to thank! 

From the careful tending of coffee trees, to expertly hand-plucking each cherry, to processing methods honed over generations – not to mention enduring hot, humid conditions – a tremendous amount of effort goes into producing coffee beans.

Next time you enjoy your favorite coffee roast, I encourage you to take a moment to close your eyes and reflect on the long, fascinating journey those beans made from coffee cherries grown far away. 

Hopefully, learning about this humble fruit gives you a deeper appreciation for each sip!

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