What is Peaberry Coffee? This Mutated Bean Explained!

peaberry coffee beans
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Peaberry is a coffee variety you might hear enthusiasts and experts talking about. Even though it’s said that Peaberries were discarded in the past, they have now turned into one of the most expensive varieties.

There is a lot of ongoing debate surrounding peaberry coffee. Most of the chatter revolves around what they are, and how they’re different from other coffee beans.

Are these differences enough to justify the cost? Let’s take a closer look.

What Is Peaberry Coffee?

A peaberry coffee bean is a naturally occurring mutation of the Robusta or Arabica coffee bean species. Even though the specifics are yet to be uncovered, some of the factors linked to this mutation include genetic defects, pollination, and environmental conditions. It occurs in all of the worlds well-known coffee growing regions, from Eastern Africa to South America and Hawaii.

It is estimated that about 5 to 15 percent of all the coffee grown is peaberry. This natural phenomenon is not influenced by the coffee farming or processing methods used in specific coffee growing regions.

The appearance of peaberry coffee beans is different from that of normal coffee beans, mainly due to the fact that there is only one seed in the coffee cherry. So instead of two seeds pressed against each other in the husk, resulting in each of the seeds having a flat side, the smaller peaberry beans have an oval appearance.

Where Do They Come From?

sorting beans

Peaberry coffee beans are discovered during the manual sorting process after they are harvested from the field. This means that all coffee cherries have the potential to be peaberry beans. Unfortunately, you can’t tell them apart from regular beans by simply looking at the coffee cherries.

The manual process sorts the beans by screen size in a dry mill, after which the peaberry beans are packaged and sold separately. In some cases, relatively small underdeveloped twin-bean cherries may find their way into the peaberry batch. This manual sorting process is one of the main reasons peaberry coffee beans are more expensive than regular beans.

In order to avoid this burden, peaberry beans are often sold together with regular coffee beans. This means that coffee enthusiasts who are interested in the peaberry variety must specifically search for the costlier batch of peaberry beans sold separately.

Why Is Peaberry More Expensive?

If you’ve ever seen peaberry coffee for sale in supermarkets or coffee specialty shops, you will know that the price is usually more than twice that of regular coffee; this is due to a number of reasons.

First and foremost, as previously mentioned, for peaberry beans to be sold separately, they must be taken through a manual sorting process. This is quite a labor intensive affair.

Secondly, peaberry coffee beans are a rarity, occurring in less than 15 percent of all coffee grown.

Lastly, it is argued by some, mostly marketers, that peaberry coffee provides a superior experience and flavor as compared to regular, un-mutated coffee. However, the debate around this divisive issue among the routine caffeine team players still rages on.

The cost of these beans is still less than the more expensive options like Kopi Luwak and Gesha coffee. However the prices of these beans is more justified in comparison to Peaberry which is a simple mutation of a regular bean. There are even some cases where coffee cherries can contain up to 3 beans! When will marketers start selling these triangle shaped beans.?

Does it Taste Better?

Now that you have a better idea of what peaberry coffee is, as well as some of the reasons why it commands a higher price than regular coffee, you might be wondering what all this means for your coffee drinking experience; does peaberry coffee taste better?

While most people agree that peaberry coffee tastes different; however, the reason for this varies.

Some say that peaberry coffee has a richer, sweeter and more flavorful taste that’s much better than regular coffee. They often note that it’s due to the fact that the single seed within the coffee cherry gets all of the nutrients to itself.

Others say that the main reason behind the superior taste is that the beans are handpicked. This is said to minimize the picking of inferior beans.

Another commonly quoted reason for the superior taste of peaberry coffee is the fact that their “rounder shape” makes for more evenly roasted beans.

All in all, the taste profile of peaberry coffee is distinctly different from regular coffee. However, the difference is not always as pronounced as some would think, or as marketers would have you believe.

Roasting Peaberry Coffee Beans

green peaberry beans

Generally speaking, roasting peaberry beans requires a little bit more care than regular coffee beans; this is mainly due to their smaller size.

When it comes to roasting these coffee beans, one of the main factors to consider is the size of the mesh being used. The smaller beans may fall through a relatively large mesh, resulting in an unnecessarily high loss of beans.

The small size of the beans also means that the roasting temperature and size might need to be lowered for optimal results. A test batch should always be used to determine the best roasting procedure. 

When roasting small green beans, it’s recommended that you use spouted bed roasting technology (1).

Conclusion

Peaberry coffee has been marketed as a superior alternative to regular coffee. However, since marketers struggle to explain how and why this might be the case, it’s hard to verify and express these claims when coffee is such a personal experience.

Justifying buying a pack of coffee for more than twice the regular cost will come down to your own preferences. I’d suggest trying a bag and seeing if you like it!

References

1. Nagaraju, V. D., & Bhattacharya, S. (2010). Roasting green coffee beans using spouted bed roaster: changes in physical characteristicsJournal of food science and technology47(6), 674–677. doi:10.1007/s13197-010-0088-z

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