Is Coffee A Fruit?

Coffee comes from the coffee bean, but what precisely is that bean? Is coffee a fruit, a vegetable, or something else entirely? Read on to find out more.

Is coffee a fruit
Coffee beans grow inside these cherries

Coffee is an essential part of the morning routine for millions of people worldwide. However, there is still a bit of mystery over what a coffee bean is and where it comes from.

Removing a bit of that mystery straight away, we can tell you that coffee beans aren’t as much beans as they are seeds. And, as strange as it sounds, coffee plants (sometimes referred to as coffee trees) are unrecognizable to non-experts, growing beautiful white flowers and producing tiny red fruits called coffee cherries.

You might be surprised to hear that coffee beans grow inside these cherries. Thus, the answer to whether coffee is a fruit is a resounding ‘yes’. As strange as it sounds, your mug of morning espresso comes from the inside of a cherry harvested from the coffee plant.

The Coffee Plant

Most of us buy coffee in the form of beans. That is true whether you buy them whole and use a grinder to ground them at home or you buy ground coffee beans. These beans grow within coffee cherries on Coffea trees which are a part of the Rubiaceae plant family.

There are over a staggering 120 different species of Coffea, which include the likes of Coffea Arabica and Coffea canephora, and Coffea Robusta.

These trees are often grown from coffee seed, typically in Africa or Asia. They can reach anywhere from 9ft – 11.5ft in height. They also grow highly aromatic flowers that can vary from startling white to a reddish pink.

After approximately 3 – 5 years, some coffea species, such as the Arabica and Robusta, will begin to produce small red and purple fruits, which have been classified as either berries or drupes.

More commonly, though, we call them coffee cherries. And believe it or not, inside their skin is where that your delicious morning coffee comes from. So, despite the coffee you drink being listed as a ‘bean’, it is far from a legume.

The Coffee Cherry

The fruit of the coffee tree is small and sweet and contains quite a bit of caffeine. However, its flesh is small, with the stone or “pit” taking up much of the room within the cherry. Thus, the fruit isn’t worth eating on its own.

Coffee trees can live to be as old as 100 years in certain species. Once the coffee cherries start appearing, they take about nine months to become ripe enough to harvest.

They are almost always harvested by hand, and coffee cherries can either be carefully selected (using a number of criteria to ensure they are only being picked when absolutely perfect) or “strip-picked” from the limb all at once.

After being picked, there are two different methods by which the cherries can be processed that allow manufacturers to separate the seed from the fruit. The first method is the “wet” process. This is where the good and bad fruits are separated, and then a machine strips the fruit’s skin away from the seed.

The husks are discarded, and the seeds are soaked and fermented to remove any remaining pulp or fruit.

The more traditional and less expensive method of processing is called the “dry” process. This process is much less complicated, as it involves spreading the coffee cherries out on brick or concrete under the sun. They are turned regularly and take about four weeks to dry, after which they are stored until they can be milled and hulled cleanly by a machine.

The Coffee Bean

Finally, we arrive at the good part. Once the coffee cherry has grown and been harvested and processed, there are typically two little seeds inside. Those familiar with the look of whole coffee beans know that they are generally round and oval-shaped with one flat side.

Inside each cherry typically resides two of these beans, flat sides pressed together.

Now and then (about 5% of the time), a coffee cherry will produce a single matured, completely round seed instead of two. This particular bean is called a “peaberry,” and many believe that these special seeds have a stronger and more potent flavor. Peaberry coffee is highly coveted for this reason and can be found most often in Tanzanian and Kona coffees and not in your more common arabica coffee beans.

Fresh red berries coffee beans in woman's hand.
Inside each cherry typically resides two of these beans, flat sides pressed together

The other 95% of the time, though, both seeds are fertilized and grow together, creating the iconic flattened look we are all used to. When first processed, coffee beans are considered “green.

This simply means that they haven’t gone through the roasting process yet. Some manufacturers utilize the green coffee bean as well, selling “green coffee extract” as a supplement that has been known to help with weight loss especially.

Most often, though, they are sent to be roasted with the final product, the roasted coffee bean you are familiar with when you buy your usual robusta coffee or whatever your favorite bean is.

With the roasters, we see the coffee bean evolve into its final form and go from what could probably be distinguished as a fruit pit into the “bean” we see in the grocery store.

The final appearance of the roasted seeds is highly deceptive. Fruits are often vibrant, juicy, and sweet. However, coffee defies all expectations by providing a completely unique taste and experience that no other fruit–pit, stone fruit, seed, bean, can compete with.

Is Coffee A Fruit And Healthy

Many will question whether coffee counts as one of your five-a-day fruit and vegetables. Although they’re a good source of fiber, they contain fewer nutrients than other fruits and vegetables. So, unfortunately, the answer is no, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not healthy to consume.

Trends in food and wellness tend to give us a skewed idea of facts regarding our favorite foods. Unfortunately, it has become a common belief that coffee isn’t great for you, resulting in many people cutting back or removing it from their diet altogether.

However, coffee is excellent for most individuals if consumed in a moderate and healthy amount. Just like the rest of the world’s most popular superfood fruits, such as blackberries and blueberries, coffee is packed full of antioxidants that can fight cancer-causing free radicals.

In fact, coffee is most Americans’ #1 source of antioxidants. It also provides other significant nutrients, such as magnesium, potassium, and niacin.

According to US Dietary Guidelines, moderate coffee consumption cannot be conclusively connected to many major diseases. Instead, it has been known to protect against Type 2 Diabetes, diminish the risk of heart disease, prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, help eye conditions, relieve stress, and even combat depression.

In other words, don’t let any wellness trend make you feel guilty about drinking a cup of coffee a day–or even 2 or 3. The world’s coffee is there to be embraced, with many of the benefits of coffee overlooked in favor of clickbait headlines.

Buying Coffee Cherries

Unfortunately, whole coffee cherries aren’t sold to consumers and are only sold and distributed to coffee-producing companies. There are a couple of reasons why this is, and also a few alternatives if you really want to know what that coffee cherry is like.

Broadly speaking, people want to buy the arabica beans and robusta coffee beans, not the cherries they have come from. There simply isn’t the interest or market for the entire cherry as there is for the bean inside it.

After all, the coffee berries aren’t very large, and the bean makes up most of the inside, leaving little to consume.

However, some companies will save the cherry during dry processing. After sun-drying and removing the bean, you are left with what is sort of like skin. These are called cherry dusks or cascara.

These dried husks are available in some supermarkets or can easily be found online, and they are most often used to make a special kind of caffeine-rich drink, cascara tea.

Growing Your Own Coffee Plant

Grow coffee beans Plant coffee tree Hand care and watering the trees.
Individual growing full-sized coffee tree in their backyard has an extremely slim chance

It’s the age of DIY, and many of us have taken to growing our own essentials, whether that be vegetable produce or common herbs. However, growing fruit is a little more challenging. It isn’t impossible, but the chances of an individual growing a full-sized coffee tree in their backyard is extremely slim.

Coffee trees require a lot of specific environmental circumstances to flourish and produce enough fruit for even one pot of coffee.

Coffee trees typically require hot and humid environments, with some even needing tropical settings. In addition, coffee trees do best in areas with high elevations without cold temperatures, which very few locations can achieve. That is why specific coffee plants ended up flourishing in places like Brazil and Ethiopia, yet the likes of Connecticut and Maine aren’t renowned for coffee farms.

That being said, many individuals have adopted coffee plants as houseplants, where they will typically grow to be about 6ft tall. They make beautiful evergreen additions to any indoor home decor.

However, these plants rarely flower indoors and can only produce a small handful of fruits with careful and dutiful hand-pollination. So, while you may be able to grow the actual plant, it’s unlikely you’ll be providing your own coffee any time soon.