September 10, 2014
When I first started getting an appetite for quality coffee, I encountered coffee beans labeled as Peaberry. At the time I thought it was just another nickname for coffee or a type of coffee grown in particular parts of the world. After some time though, I realized neither were true. So what is a Peaberry exactly?
Coffee is fruit. If you've ever looked at a typical coffee bean, you'll notice that it's flat on one side, while the other side is round. Inside each coffee cherry, two beans face each other on their flat sides. During the development, sometimes one of the two seeds might not develop. This causes the surviving seed to become more rounded. These round-shaped coffee beans are called "peaberries." They're usually smaller than typical seeds and almost have a football shape after they're roasted.
There are a couple of myths that exist about peaberries that I want to dismiss. First, peaberries do not taste notably different than their normal counterparts. Some people believe that because the nutrients that the plant produces for two seeds is received by only one seed, that peaberries are of higher quality. That's simply not true. The premium that is associated with Peaberry lots comes from the sorting process, not the overall quality difference. As a matter of fact, in a typical bag of coffee you'll find a few peaberries. I will admit that 100% Peaberry lots roast different than a standard lot from the same farm. Because they're smaller in size, they react differently to heat and airflow. However, once a similar profile is achieved for both lots, they usually taste the same.
The second most common myth is that peaberries only come from Tanzania. That's false too. Tanzania is one of the most widely known coffee-growing countries that consistently separates a huge chunk of their coffee lots into Peaberry lots. This is basically derived from customer demand due to tradition. Peaberries occur in every coffee-growing country. On average, about 5% of every un-sorted bag of coffee beans are peaberries. I've had Peaberry lots from not only Tanzania, but from Costa Rica, Guatemala and Rwanda, to name a few.
In conclusion, I hope this clears up what a Peaberry actually is--a genetically flawed, but rare coffee seed. Next time you open a fresh bag of beans, check and see if you've got a few peaberries hanging around in there. Be blessed.