All About Coffee Cherry: What Does Its Taste Like?


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They often say that the coffee bean is actually not a bean, it’s a seed. But if it’s considered as a seed, then it comes from a fruit, right?

We only care about our cup of coffee but not paying attention to the fact that the coffee you brew at home comes from a type of fruit known as the coffee cherry. In this article, we’ll talk about the coffee cherry, what does its taste like, and how this fruit is transformed into your daily cup.

So, let’s take a dipper look inside of it to understand more about the things that are going on, and to which and how it’s associated with the coffee bean we typically roast, grind and brew.

Introduction to the Coffee Plant

coffee plant

Before we go to the coffee cherry, let’s start first with the coffee tree. We all know that a cherry comes from a plant that’s typically called genus Coffea, but not every coffee enthusiast knows how to describe what a coffee plant is.

A coffee plant is a shrub with vertical stems (orthotropic) that produce horizontal trunks or branches (plagiotropic) that can grow to over 30 feet high. The average coffee plant can survive for about 70 years, if taken cared properly.

These trees are mostly grown under the canopy of other plants, which also serve as their shading protection. They are ideally grown into the kind of environment that resembles their natural habitat, which is the forest. 

For almost 14 years, and until now, coffee trees have been cultivated by humans. Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that coffee production has a huge impact on the livelihood of most farmers in the industry. Yes! there’s money in coffee farming, it is indeed one of the monetary sources of many farmers around the globe. 

However, the cultivation of coffee can be a challenging task, especially if just getting started, as the coffee trees undergo lots of management, planning, and proper implementations. It will take more than a year for the coffee plants to start having strong crops, and eventually to produce coffee cherries. These trees undergo lots of pruning, fertilization, disease management, and so on to maintain that sustainability in cultivation, as well as to achieve a great tasting coffee. 

The Different Types of Coffee

There are two main categories of coffee varieties: Coffea Arabica, or simply called, Arabica and Coffea Canephora which is commonly known as Robusta.

Although there are many different species of the coffee, these two alone are the main commercial coffee varieties produced and traded around the world, and almost what most people consume nowadays.

Despite having a lower yield compared to Robusta, the good thing about Arabica is autogamous, which means it’s capable of self-pollinating, mostly before the flower opens.

Arabica is also well-known in the specialty coffee industry for its higher quality beans, having a flavor that is more complex, acidic, and sweet. Indeed, it is the highest producing coffee variety in the world until now, at least about 70-75% of production is Arabica. Though the beans tend to sell at higher prices on the market as of being higher quality.

On the other hand, Robusta depends on cross-pollination which occurs after the flower opens. While the Arabica can be found in higher altitudes, Robusta usually grow in the lower altitudes, which is vulnerable to pests and bad weather conditions.

Robusta has often associated to a taste described as burnt tires or rubbery. That is one of the reasons why this variety of coffee is considered low quality. 

What is Coffee Cherry?

The coffee cherry, also known as coffee berry are usually names given to the fresh and complete fruit of the coffee tree. It begins with a green unripe cherry to a red ripen fruit that is generally cultivated in different stages of processing and intended use. 

The products from these fruits (the seeds) are further processed and roasted to develop a flavor that is good for consumption. The products such as wastes are also recycled.

The green-colored cherries are considered unripe, which means you need more time to develop its ripeness. Usually, it takes about seven months for the cherry to grow and ripen prior to flowering.

You will see that the cherry starts to ripen once the color starts to change from green to red, to deep red, until it reaches an almost black color (sometimes almost black is over ripped). Just keep in mind that the final color is determined by the coffee’s variety as some coffees provide ripe cherries that are yellow, red, and even orange.

Coffee cherries grow in bundles along the branches of the coffee tree, having a body like the size of a small berry. Each cherry generally contains two coffee beans, or rather call it seeds that lie inside and facing each other.

These seeds inside the cherry are all that we need to make a great cup of coffee at home. Therefore, once the cherries are ripened, the seeds must be removed from it and dried before the roasting process begins. They are then eventually roasted to produce what we’ve typically known as “roasted coffee beans”.

The Anatomy of a Coffee Cherry

 

The red skin which is the outermost layer of the coffee cherry is called the exocarp. Usually, it’s thick and sometimes bitter.

Beneath the skin of the coffee cherry is the mesocarp or pulp. The inner-most layer of the pulp is made of mucilage that contains many complex sugars (they say it has the texture of a grape), which also serves and provides support for the seed. They also say that the pulp is considered as an edible flesh of the cherry, it means this layer can still be processed for consumption.

Next in line is the parenchyma, a slimy, sticky, and honey-like layer beneath the mesocarp. This layer also helps to protect the beans.

The coffee beans inside the cherry are surrounded by a parchment-like container which is called the endocarp, covering the two beans which the flat sides are facing together. Once the cherry is ripe, a thin and slimy layer of mucilage also surrounds the parchment which protects the beans inside the cherry.

Lastly, underneath the parchment, the coffee beans are covered in another thinner membrane called permoderm, also known as the silver skin, and sometimes referred to as the seed coat. 

  • Epicarp or Exocarp –The term or the name designated to the skin of the fruit, a mono-cellular layer covered with a way substance that ensures the protection of the fruit.
  • Mesocarp – The intermediate layer of tissues between the epicarp and the endocarp. It contains mainly pectinaceous mucilage and pulp.
  • Endocarp – The scientific term for “parchment”. The tough integument tightly pressed to the seed when fresh but from which the seed shrinks during drying.
  • Endosperm –The scientific term designating the tissues that feed the embryo during germination. The bean consists of the endosperm and embryo (the thing inside the developing fruit), which ultimately forms the kind of coffee beans that we typically know. Furthermore, the endosperm fills the integument as the coffee cherry ripens.
  • Mucilage – The common word to describe the sweet slimy layer found between the pulp and adhering to the parchment inside the coffee cherry, but not removed by pulping. Not present in unripe cherry though.
  • Pulp – The part of the coffee cherry composed of the external exocarp and most of the internal mesocarp.
  • Silver Skin – coat of the coffee bean. It has generally silver or coppery appearance.

Furthermore, once the cherries are taken to be processed, the parchment will come off during the processing and or depending on the method, leaving only the raw green beans which are then ready for roasting.

The Stages of the Coffee Cherry’s Maturity

Generally, color is a guide to the maturity of cherry, as well as the degree of roast of the beans. Sure, coffee is harvested when it’s a red color which indicates that the appropriate maturity has been reached. But what if the cherries are harvested at the wrong time? Does it impact the taste of your cup?

The maturity of the coffee cherries as well as the beans is the most influential factor that determines the quality and flavor of the coffee you brew every day. From the tree to the beans, until it reaches your cup, the various physical characteristics of coffee in its different forms play an important part in how it is treated or processed. 

Also, it affects the design of equipment and approaches to process it. The fact that the coffee tree can produce cherries at different stages of maturity, this demands handpicking to select only the ripe cherries.

Moving on, did you know that the coffee tree produces flowers first, which turn into pinheaded green cherries, and becomes ripe after several months?

Let’s take a look at the lists to understand more about the stages of maturity of a cherry to which a green coffee bean is produced.

Flowering

To begin with, the flowering stage is where the cherries begin to yield on the branches of the coffee plant. It will take a month for the pinhead green cherries to appear. Just like any other plant, the coffee tree needs to reproduce to preserve its identity.

The flowers are beautiful white blossoms that grow in arrays along the branches of the tree. Usually, the smell is similar to jasmine (some say you can smell the scent of citrus orange blossoms).

The flowering plays the most important role in guaranteeing a high yield or large crop for coffee farmers. It can either make or break the production of the coffee cherry. The first flowers appear typically in the third year after the coffee has been planted. 

So, moving on, the question now is how many times does flowing occur in a year?

It will depend on the climatic condition of the place or country, and sometimes the geographic condition also contributes to it. Generally, they say that coffees near the equator can have two or more flowering peak periods in a year because of a well-established wet season.

Yes, the rain is the one that triggers the flowering of the plant. That’s why, in countries near the equator where the dry season is not that remarkable or prominent, the flowering of coffee trees can occur in rounds per year.

Unripe Cherry

Of course, you may already know that green coffee cherries aren’t ripe, and as mentioned before, it will take a month for it to be seen once the flowering starts.

But have you ever tasted a bean that’s picked too early? What does taste like? What’s the difference between a perfectly ripened cherry? 

The taste of the unripe cherry is usually like nothing, but full of bitterness once you bit its bean inside your mouth. Unlike ripe cherries which tastes like sweet and juicy, the unripe cherries don’t have a taste even you sip it like candy inside your mouth.

The use of unripe or immature cherries in coffee production is associated with poor quality beans. It means picking an unripe cherry could potentially give you a broken, cut, quaker, or even defective bean. 

The coffee that is made of unripe cherries could give you a taste that is full of bitterness, as a matter of fact even a mixture of ripe and unripe fruit could make the coffee taste more bitter in the final cup because beans from such these (unripe) cherries are prone to blackening during the drying process.

Ripe Cherry

The ripe coffee cherry is a small red cherry with a waxy or shiny skin that grows in bundles along the branches of the coffee tree.

The ideal time for harvesting is when the cherries are in red or dark-red color. The berries usually reach this kind of maturity after 7-8 months, depending on the region where the coffees are grown.

When we say ripe, it is the right stage or the right time to which the coffee cherry reached its appropriate maturity. This time, the cherries can be harvested and processed in either wet or dry methods to produce raw green beans. After the green beans have been produced, it’s then ready to be roasted to develop the flavor that we want.

Speaking of harvesting, there are two basic systems to which you can pick the ripe cherries from the tree: Strip harvesting and Selective Picking.

In Strip harvesting, it is a method where a mixture of ripe and predominantly ripe cherries is being picked. It is the result where all the cherries are stripped off the trees mechanically at one time, using either a mechanical stripping device or mechanical harvesters.

On the other hand, Selective harvesting is usually done by manually inspecting then picking the ripe coffee cherries from the tree, without using any devices but only bare hands.

And moving on, the ripe cherries can now undergo a process where the removal of pulp, mucilage, and parchment takes place. This process is consisting of two basic methods: the dry and wet method.

To give you an overview, in the dry processing system, the whole harvested ripe cherry is either directly sun-dried, dried using a mechanical dryer, or a combination of both. Then, produces what we called natural coffee or dried coffee cherry where the seeds are enclosed in the whole fruit. It is then hulled to produce that raw green beans which are ready for roasting.

In the wet method, on the other hand, it requires raw material composed of only ripe cherries. Yes, only ripe cherries are recommended in this method of processing. It is where the fruit parts are mechanically separated, making the pulp as the by-product and the parchment coffee as the main product in making the perfect cup of coffee.

Usually, the seed we expect is enclosed in the inner integument or endocarp. Just like the dry method, the parchment beans are then hulled to produce also raw green beans that are ready for roasting. 

How About the Other Colors?

As mentioned before, ripe cherries can either be red, yellow or orange. Usually, coffee cherries turn red when ripe.

But how about that orange, yellow, and even pink varieties? What are they?

Yellow Bourbon Coffee

To start with, the yellow bourbon, also called Brazil yellow bourbon coffee (as it was introduced to Brazil in the 1800s) is also a coffee tree that produces a cherry, it is just known for its yellow fruit once it reaches the mature stage.

It is said that yellow bourbon is a prestigious and also an original variety of Coffea Arabica which features the rare yellow variety of Arabica beans.

Furthermore, it is also known for its smooth and mellow flavor that offers a pleasantly mild and full-bodied coffee. Just like any other Arabica variety, it’s also widely noted for its rich aroma, medium acidity, and a sweet finished flavor.

On the other hand, just like the yellow bourbon, it is believed that the orange bourbon is also another result of the natural mutation of the red bourbon. The cherries of this plant consisting of glucose, creating a silkier body and great tasting cup, often includes the peachy/pink or sometimes called “pink” bourbon. Furthermore, It is said that the general taste is not that far from a red bourbon. Read more about the bourbon coffee variety HERE.

Can We Eat the Coffee Cherries?

The fact that we’ve considered the coffee cherry as a fruit, having a resemblance to a normal cherry or berry, some may also think that you can eat this kind of fruit as it is.

Well, we can’t blame others for thinking that coffee cherries are like any other normal cherries for its beautiful, delicious, and juicy appearance. Indeed, just looking at it would leave you wanting a bit.

However, looks can sometimes be deceiving. Not all fruits are ideal for consumption, or it may, but it’s not like the thing we usually do. Some fruits are specially picked, processed, and refined to make it secure for human consumption. It means not all fruits are ideal for salads, desserts, etc.

Going back to the cherry, you can’t eat that fruit as it is, there’s nothing in there as it’s just mostly composed of pure seed. Aside from that, there’s no sense in eating them as it doesn’t give you the necessary nutrition or benefit like any other fruits. Maybe, for animals but for humans? not a good idea.

But technically, coffee cherries are considered edible and you can still eat them as you wish. There’s no problem with it as it does not harm you. Just remember that eating it as a whole is not the way how to consume coffee, there’s a process.

What Does a Coffee Cherry Taste Like?

Let’s talk about the taste of a coffee cherry. Just for you to know, unripe cherry has an acquired taste that’s far different from the ripe one. As mentioned before, the taste of an unripe cherry is like nothing, but full of bitterness once you have a bit in it.

When it comes to the ripe cherries, the ripeness plays a major role in the quality of the coffee. Just like any fruit, if it’s fully ripened, it produces a flavor that is more superior, being sweeter and more consistent in flavor. Also, the amount of mucilage, sugars, and other substances in the ripe cherry affect the quality of the cup you brew every day. 

So, moving on to the taste, some say that they all taste sweet, as sweet as honey and mangos with a few berrylike notes, as well as having an aroma like jasmine.

But when it comes to my taste preference, it just tastes like candy with a little bit of sugar and having a gluey texture. There’s nothing really special. It’s all down to personal preference, I guess?  

Final Thoughts

Here it is, all about the coffee cherry. It’s nice to know that every cup you drink has its own journey, and of course history. Even that single, shiny, little red or green cherry has a unique characteristic that you can’t see in any other fruit.

After all, there’s still more to explore in a coffee cherry and knowing more about this interesting knowledge will make you more appreciative of your coffee.

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