What Really Is A Coffee Bean? (Is it Considered a Seed?)


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A coffee bean is actually not a bean. It’s technically a seed. We simply call it coffee bean because it resembles the basic appearance of a traditional bean.

The beans we typically roast, grind, and brew to make coffee are indeed seedlings from a fruit known as the coffee cherry. So, the bean can be planted and grow into a coffee tree.

But what does a coffee bean look like? And why it’s actually a seed?

Sure, a coffee bean indeed has to do with the cups you brew every morning. And having a basic understanding of it can impact the way how you make your daily brew. So, in this post, we’ll provide you with the necessary experience and knowledge about a coffee bean. 

How is Coffee Bean Produced?

To better understand the coffee bean, you also need to know what a coffee plant and a coffee cherry is. The coffee plants are the ones that produce coffee cherries, and the seeds inside those fruits are the ones we call “coffee beans.” 

In short, coffee beans are produced from the harvested ripe cherries. But before that, it first starts with planting the coffee seedlings. Then they are taken care of until the seeds are transformed into coffee trees.

Just like any other plant, the coffee tree needs to reproduce to preserve its identity. So, the tree will begin to flower and yields a bunch of coffee cherries. Once these cherries are ripened, they are harvested and then further processed. 

Each cherry generally contains two coffee beans, or instead call it seeds that lie inside and facing each other. These seeds inside the fruit are all that we need to make a great cup of coffee at home. Therefore, the seeds must be removed or extracted from the cherry.

In order to extract the beans from it, they need to go through any of these coffee processes: the dry or wet method. 

The dry method involves the drying of whole fruit, usually under the sun or through a mechanical drier. It’s a straightforward technique to reveal the raw coffee beans out of a hulling machine.

On the other hand, the wet or washed method involves pulping and fermentation to extract the fruit’s beans. The pulping machine separates the pulp from the stone inside. It will then reveal the parchment coffee (the hard endocarp and silver skin still attached to the beans).

However, that’s not yet the bean that we need. Therefore, you still need to ferment and dry it before extracting out the raw green bean from its parchment enclosure.

But regardless of the different approach to processing the cherries, coffee beans are being produced in the end. After all, it would be help if you had the bean itself to make other coffee beans that are roasted, ground, and brewed. Your Might want to read this article, How Does Processing Method Affect Coffee Taste, for more details.

What Does a Green Coffee Bean Look Like?

Raw green coffee beans are different from roasted ones. They haven’t been transformed and they’re entirely fresh and natural, giving you the experience of knowing the bean’s original structure and composition. If someone can’t still characterize a green bean’s physical appearance, just think of it having silver to green skin. 

Some of you might think that these green beans are some of a distinctive coffee variety. Well, that’s not the case. Roasting doesn’t change the identity of the bean. For example, once a green arabica bean is roasted, it’s still an arabica in the end. The only things that changed are the chemical and physical properties of the original bean.

Moreover, we’ve mentioned that raw green bean is a seed, which can be planted. So, if you want to grow your own coffee plant, buy fresh green beans from roasters or sellers. All you need to do is germinate the seeds by soaking them in water for 24 hours.

And if you live in a coffee-producing country, start with recently picked coffee cherries. You can use a freshly pulped coffee seed immediately for planting. (You can read our guide on How to grow coffee plant at home for more information.) 

In terms of flavor, a fresh cup of green coffee bean doesn’t taste like the roasted cup of coffee you’re used to. While roasted coffee beans provide aromatic and delightful flavor, green beans have a much milder to bitter taste.

The green coffee bean contains a cellulose composition that prevents those complex flavor profiles from arising. Whereas, those complex aromas and flavors are only found in roasted ones.

In short, there’s nothing you can gain from fresh green coffee beans. Sure, some say that they can be transformed into tea (green beans’ taste is similar to herbal tea). In fact, many health experts recommend green bean extract as a dietary supplement. However, there’s no substantial evidence that it has a significant impact on weight.

So, aside from the fact that only a few people can appreciate the taste of unroasted beans, the main reason why we need to roast the coffee beans is to give coffee its ultimate taste and smell. 

How About a Roasted Coffee Bean?

On the other hand, roasted beans are the ones that we see more frequently in the local roasters and coffee shops. They are brown or dark brown, sometimes having an oily surface, and are the kind of beans we usually grind and brew.

Roasted beans will occur once the green beans are subjected to heat and time, which forces the original structure and composition to change. In other words, they are baked or toasted, or cooked to develop the flavor.

If you want to know more about how the beans’ flavors are developed, you might want to read this post, Coffee Roasting Process, for more details.

Again, a roasted bean may have a different distinguishable appearance, from light-brown to dark skin to burnt, depending on how the bean was roasted. Sometimes medium to dark-brown coffee beans are often used at coffee shops and cafes.

That is because dark coffees are best when mixed with milk or blends that many people love to drink. But for those so called “third wave coffee” shops, they are more engaged in using light roasted coffee beans.

However, green (raw) and brown (roasted) coffee beans are technically the same. They are the same in terms of construction. Yet, when it comes to taste preference, of course, that’s where they contradict each other. Both of the beans are made up of the same element. But they are different because the raw beans are tasteless while the roasted ones are flavorful.

Are There Any Other Types of Coffee Beans in the World?

It’s universal that the coffee beans used in the roasting, grinding, and brewing coffee are the seeds from the coffee cherry; however, the beans are not limited to a single bean variety only. It means that all the beans produced in the world or all the bags you purchase in the supermarkets are categorized into different types.

There are four different types of coffee beans that are widely produced and sold in the market. The most common and popular are Arabica and Robusta, which probably make your cup. On the other hand, the less common are Liberica and Excelsa, which are generally used in blends because of their limited availability. 

Those coffee beans have different variations and characters in terms of taste, structure, composition, and so on. No two coffee beans are the same, and each bean has its unique characteristics and identity. These factors are the different sizes and flavors that each coffee bean has, including various growing conditions and cultivation practices.

For example, in terms of the bean’s size, the Liberica bean is the largest amongst them. When it comes to sugar content, the Arabica has the highest sugar level. And in terms of caffeine, Robusta bean provides the most amount of caffeine.

There are more things you can explore aside from these mentioned characteristics. But in the end, these differences have a considerable impact on how you choose the right coffee. These differences can also affect the flavor and aroma of your cup.

Can you Eat a Coffee Bean?

A whole coffee bean, whether raw or roasted, has benefits. Indeed, it contains antioxidants and caffeine, which may give you the boost you need to jump-start your day.

However, aside from drinking, is a whole coffee bean delicious to eat? 

The coffee beans we typically know are not just ordinary seeds. They are safe to eat – they are considered edible – as long as in moderation. The idea of eating coffee beans has been an old practice by many people around the globe. Before discovering coffee as a prominent drink, coffee beans were often mixed with animal fat and consumed to act as a stimulant.

However, it should be in moderation or proper consumption because eating whole beans may cause unpleasant side effects. Although you can’t get sick from eating them, your body may encounter difficulty digesting if your habit isn’t often regulated.

Additionally, the high amount of coffee beans’ caffeine content may affect your sleep routine. Besides, in my opinion, it doesn’t even make sense eating it as it is, whether it was roasted or not. 

Eating raw or even roasted coffee beans isn’t the right way to consume them, of course. Unlike chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds, which can be eaten as is, coffee needs to be processed to develop or extract the flavor that is good for human consumption. In other words, they are special seeds that are specially transformed into a cup of coffee.

So, how would you consume coffee beans aside from drinking?

Whole coffee beans may not be ideal for direct consumption, but ground coffees are. However, again, it’s not the way you eat them directly. If you’ve already tried eating ground coffee, then you’re probably aware of the taste. It’s full of bitterness, right?

There are better ways how to incorporate coffee grounds on some foods for better consumption. You may be probably aware of coffee-based snacks and foods that many people enjoy. Coffee grounds can also be a flexible ingredient for cooking and food manufacturing. 

These coffee grounds are often mixed with snacks such as chocolate, ice cream, cake, cookies, and so on. They are sometimes included in foods and even other beverages to give a more pronounce flavor and provide a different taste combination.

The bitterness of ground coffee is the perfect ingredient to give a balanced and delicious taste. But most of the time, the addictive aspect of coffee is much more important to make consumers delve into the product.

Conclusion

A coffee bean is considered both bean and seed, in my opinion. But does it matter how you classify it?

A coffee bean is actually a seed, but you can use it to brew a great-tasting coffee when you dried, roast, and ground it. And if the coffee seed isn’t processed and you don’t want to roast and grind it, you can plant the seed and grow it into a coffee tree.

In the end, what most important is you know how to use it according to your intended use.

Like this article? You might want to read: 11 Profitable Things You Can Do With Used Coffee Grounds