Many people mistakenly think that coffee beans are actually beans. You might be surprised to learn that this is not true.
Coffee beans are actually seeds inside of red or purple fruit called coffee cherries. They are not technically beans despite their resemblance to them. Seeds are considered beans only if they are part of the legumes family; however, the coffee tree is not one of them.
There are a few distinctions between these different plant species that clarifies why coffee beans are a little different.
Why many people think coffee beans are beans
Many people believe coffee beans are actually beans because their shape and size are similar to many beans. Also, because “bean” is the popularized term that most people have heard and used for many years.
Other than the resemblance to actual beans, it’s unclear why the term has become so widely adopted. The truth is that coffee beans are actually seeds that can be used to grow more coffee plants.
What is a seed?
A seed is simply an organic structure that is capable of growing into another plant. Under the right conditions, you could plant a coffee bean and expect it to grow into a new plant – a Coffea plant in this case.
This is true for anything else that’s considered a seed. Seeds come in many different shapes, sizes and textures which can cause confusion when comparing them to other plant components.
Further adding to the confusion is that some seeds can be classified as other things as well, such as beans.
Why coffee beans are not beans
A bean is a seed that grows into a legume plant. Legumes are plants where the fruit is contained inside of a pod, such as peas, chickpeas, lima beans and peanuts.
Therefore, if a seed grows into any kind of plant that’s not a legume, then it’s not considered a bean. This is where a lot of confusion is caused among people who think coffee beans are beans.
A Coffea plant, which is where coffee beans are harvested from, produces fruit called coffee cherries. These cherries are not contained inside pods, which means the Coffea plant cannot be considered a legume and why coffee beans are ruled out from being beans.
Can seeds be beans?
Yes. In fact, all beans are seeds. But not all seeds are beans. Any seed that grows into a legume is classified as being a bean. If not, then it’s just a seed.
What is a coffee bean?
A coffee bean is a seed that is capable of growing into a Coffea, or a coffee plant. Two coffee beans/seeds are typically found inside of each coffee cherry that grows on the plant. Each of these seeds is what most people know as being a single coffee bean.
While it may look like coffee beans are cut into two halves, this is not the case. The coffee bean you see in an unground bag of coffee is what it looks like inside of the cherry. The only difference is that it has not been roasted yet so its color is light green. Both of these half-sphere coffee beans face each other inside of the coffee cherry.
There are special coffee plant varieties, called peaberry, where only a single coffee seed is found in each coffee cherry. Peaberries only occur about 5% of the time when one of the seed halves doesn’t fertilize. The rarity of these types of coffee beans makes them very sought after and expensive.
Why coffee beans are not considered fruit
A fruit is defined as being an organic structure that contains seeds and develops from the flower of a plant. Based on this definition, a coffee bean is not a fruit because it cannot bear seeds. It is a seed in and of itself.
The Coffea is a fruit-bearing plant though. The coffee cherry is the fruit that is grown.
Why coffee beans are not considered nuts
There are a few differences between nuts and legumes. Legumes Usually have multiple seeds inside of a pod. And the pod naturally opens up on its own when they are ready to harvest. Nuts usually only contain a single seed inside of a shell that does not open on its own.
Coffee is not considered a nut because it does not grow inside of a hard shell. It grows inside of cherry fruit.