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Ever walked into your local coffee shop and seen the word “peaberries”? You’ve probably wondered why it’s one of the most expensive items on the menu. What is a peaberry anyway? Is it a berry? A bean? A pea?
Image credit: Ragesoss
Nope, a peaberry is neither pea nor berry. It is a single seed inside a coffee fruit (or coffee cherry). This oval or pea-shaped bean is a natural mutation that occurs in only 5-10% of all coffee beans harvested in the world.
To understand how rare this type of bean is and how different it is from normal coffee beans, we’d have to know the anatomy of a coffee cherry.
The coffee beans we roast, grind, and brew are actually seeds inside a coffee cherry and there are normally two of these. The following layers of fruit and skin protect these seeds:
Normally, two seeds (with one flat side) are formed inside the parchment, with each seed covered by the thin epidermis or “silver skin”. But in rare cases, only one round seed forms – a peaberry. The industry has yet to figure out why this mutation happens although some point to insufficient pollination, weather conditions, and other environmental factors.
There are also instances where only one flat-sided seed develops inside a cherry. This isn’t considered a peaberry though, as peaberries are round in shape.
Peaberries, although rare, are not limited to one variety of coffee. Arabica peaberries, Robusta peaberries, Liberica peaberries – all of these exist. They can appear in all coffee-growing regions, too, including the Philippines.
There’s no way to tell whether a coffee cherry has regular beans or a peaberry inside. Finding these rare babies takes a lot of time and effort as they have to be hand-sorted and separated after the beans have dried. Sieves, screens, and machines can’t detect these round beans as accurately as human hands can.
Image credit: Philippine Coffee Board
Often, the job falls into the hands of women. Why? Because they are more patient and more meticulous. In coffee-growing places like Benguet and Sulu in the Philippines, women farmers are trained to sort their beans and look for peaberries.
Peaberries are also roasted separately from regular beans. Due to their difference in size, density, and pore structure, heat is transferred differently. It is said that peaberries roast evenly compared to regular beans due to their rounder shape.
Anything rare can be touted as special. But aside from its rarity, what is it that makes peaberries special?
Because it is believed that peaberries roast evenly, it follows that peaberries are considered more flavorful, too. It’s commonly said that peaberries taste sweeter, have more brightness in flavor, and have more complex notes but are lighter in body.
Some coffee professionals also believe that the single bean receives all the nutrients of the coffee cherry rather than sharing with another seed, which then results in a richer flavor.
There’s a mix of opinions out there but it cannot be denied that special attention is given to these one-seeders during the whole post-harvest processing. The rarity, the amount of labor involved, the perceived unique flavor profile – all of these contribute to its premium positioning.
Fans swear by the quality of peaberries. If you’re still on the fence, there’s only one way to find out, and that is to try it yourself.
Benguet Peaberry is available in 120- and 250-gram packs at echostore.ph.