Although it sounds familiar, it isn’t a berry or a pea but a coffee bean.
A novice exploring the world of coffee will soon come across the term peaberry in their search for new and interesting types of bean to try.
Often the name of a coffee is based on where it originates and how it is processed. You may see the name of the country, region or variety. In the case of a peaberry it is none of these things.
A peaberry is type of coffee bean that is named for its unique size and shape. It is smaller and rounder than a typical coffee bean it looks like a pea (and a berry)!
What we call a coffee bean is actually the pit that grows inside the coffee cherry. There are usually two pits inside each cherry, they grow back to back against each other, and this gives them one flat side. But sometimes there is just one seed, a perfectly round peaberry.
A peaberry bean occurs when a genetic mutation prevents one of the seeds from developing properly. The remaining seed is left to grow alone in the centre of the cherry. Because it has nothing to grow against, the seed is round, it is also usually smaller than regular beans. Peaberries are estimated to make up between 5% and 10% of a harvest. If not specially selected or filtered out they are processed and roasted along with the rest of the crop.
Peaberries are found in every coffee crop, no matter where it is grown or what the growing conditions are. However they are more likely to be sourced from Kenya, Tanzania and Brazil as these countries have set up the infrastructure to sort them from the other beans.
There is no way of telling whether a harvested coffee cherry contains a flat bean (as regular beans are sometimes known) or a peaberry. This means that the beans have to be sorted during processing. Either they will be separated by size using a sieve or sometimes with machinery that sorts them by weight or size.
What’s so special about a peaberry – are they better than regular beans?
Whether peaberries are superior to flat beans is a hotly debated topic among coffee lovers and it is hard to find a definitive answer. Some of the arguments made are as follows:
- Peaberry beans do not have to share their nutrition with a twin bean and this extra nourishment improves their taste in the final cup, making it sweeter and more characterful.
- As peaberries are round, unlike regular ‘flat beans’ they roll around in the roasting drum and a more even roast can be achieved.
- It costs more to process these beans and because of this it is only worth selecting peaberries from a high quality lots grown at high altitude or cool temperatures.
- The extra cost of a peaberry bean is incurred because the sorting process is more labour and time intensive.
Ultimately the quality of the peaberry depends upon the same variables that affect the quality of any other coffee. Things such as coffee variety, processing methods and altitude as well as transportation, storage and roasting and finally grinding and brewing. All of the above have an impact of the taste and our enjoyment of the coffee.
Whether or not you believe the hype, there are some beautiful peaberry coffees selected from lots that are distinctive and desirable in their own right.
If you’d like to try to yourself then we have chosen a delightful, full bodied peaberry from the Rumukia Cooperative Society and Kabare Cooperative Society in Kenya.