Anatomy of a coffee bean

Anatomy of a coffee bean

What do you mean there’s no bean?

Let’s back up. First there’s a series of white, fragrant flowers that grow on a coffee tree (Learn about the coffee plant). These flowers turn into fruit which we call coffee cherries, about the size of a cranberry. What we call “beans” are actually the seeds (there are two) inside each coffee cherry.

So let’s take a look inside

  • The outside layer of the coffee cherry is called the outer skin (exocarp). It is green until it ripens to a bright red, yellow or orange, depending on the variety.
  • Beneath the outer skin is a thin layer of pulp (mesocarp) which contains layers of mucilage and pectin.These layers are full of sugars, which are important during the fermentation process. They are also very high in antioxidants and are sometimes saved to make cascara.
  • Beneath the pulp are two coffee seeds (endosperm), which we call beans. Each bean is covered with:
    1. A papery hull of parchment (endocarp) which is usually removed in hulling before being sold to roasters like us.
    2. And, closely adhered to the bean to protect it, is a thin silverskin (epidermis). The silverskin remains attached to the bean until it comes off in roasting, as chaff.

What does all this mean for taste?

After the ripe coffee cherries are picked, they must be processed which means that the skin, pulp and parchment must be removed from the beans. There are a few ways growers and producers do this and each affects the taste of your coffee:

  • Washed (or wet process) coffee has all of the pulp removed before drying. This results in a “clean,” “bright” coffee that highlights the terroir and variety.
  • Natural (or dry process) coffee leaves the coffee cherry intact for drying (the skin and pulp are left on the bean and are only removed after). This results in a more earthy, berry-toned coffee, generally sweeter and with a fuller body than washed.
  • Honey (pulped naturals process) coffee allows some of the the pulp to remain on the beans to dry and is removed later. This results in a sweeter bean, somewhere between washed and naturals.

Learn more about how washed vs. natural vs. honey processing affect your cup.