What is a Coffee Cherry? All You Need to Know

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Some people joke that coffee is a fruit.

While not technically correct (they are in fact the seed from a fruit), the coffee bean does in fact come from a fruit tree. Specifically, they come from the cherry on the Coffea plant.

In this article, we cover everything you need to know regarding coffee cherries including their flavour, what are they used for, and the most common coffee processing methods.

What is a coffee cherry?

Coffee cherries grow on a coffee tree (Coffea). In order for a coffee cherry to grow, a flower must bloom first. Once the flower has fallen to the ground, a cherry will take its place.

Coffee cherries are mostly red and yellow, each containing two green coffee seeds inside.

Depending on the processing method for the coffee, the cherry might be discarded or left to dry with the coffee beans still inside. The coffee cherry is essentially a coffee fruit.

Usually, a coffee cherry will take two months to ripen once it has started to grow. Depending on the altitude at which the coffee plant has grown, it might take longer to completely develop two green coffee beans seeds.

Sometimes, if a coffee cherry has been attacked by an insect or a plague, the seeds will have holes or defects in them which will be visible until the two seeds have been dried.

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Can you eat the fruit?

As the coffee cherry is basically fruit, you can definitely eat it. However, a ripe coffee cherry will just taste like a bitter berry with a hard exterior and not many people enjoy the taste.

The skin of a coffee cherry tends to be rough and often sticky due to the thin layer of pulp that covers the coffee beans.

You shouldn’t eat coffee cherries like you would eat regular fruit as they don’t have a lot of fruit flesh inside of them. However, if you happen to come across a ripe one, it is definitely worth trying.

Coffee cherry tea

Coffee cherry tea is also known as Cascara (a Spanish word for outer shell).

In order to make Cascara, coffee farmers leave the cherry out to dry once the coffee beans and the pulp have been removed. Once the cherry skin has a dehydrated look, it means that it is ready.

The dried skins of the cherry are brewed with hot water as if you were making tea. Typically you would use a french press for this process in order not to get any Cascara / skin in the final brew.

What you get is a tea-like beverage that has similar health benefits as coffee such as antioxidants for the skin and caffeine to improve alertness and concentration.

Cascara tea tastes very sweet and has little acidity. It is often compared to a very watered down rooibos tea in taste.

When eaten raw, expect some raisin or stone fruit flavour. Some coffee shops have recently incorporated Cascara into their menu either as a brew of its own or mixed with other coffee beverages. This allows people around the world to try Cascara without having to go to a coffee farm.

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How does a coffee cherry become a coffee bean?

In order for a coffee cherry to become a coffee bean, the ripe cherry must go through processing before reaching the roasting process.

The most common methods are natural and washed, but there also is a third method called the honey process, which is a hybrid of the two.

In the honey process, the pulp is removed from the beans but the mucilage (inner layer of pulp) is left, with the remaining fruit being discarded. This process delivers a coffee that is naturally sweet.

Natural method

Natural processing is possibly the oldest process and it is often used in places where water is scarce.

It involves placing regular cherries on a flatbed and leaving them to dry for up to six weeks.

Roasted coffee beans that have a natural process are favoured by people that enjoy a heavier drink, with notes of fruits shining through where you can really taste the origin of the coffee.

Natural processed coffee tends to be slightly pricier than washed one as it needs more care during the drying process.

Coffee beans drying in Colombia

Washed method

The washed coffee process involves removing the skin and pulp of the coffee cherry until the beans are left with only mucilage (the thin sugar layer surrounding the raw coffee beans). The green beans are left to ferment so that the mucilage can break down and they are then left to dry as usual.

The washed processing method is one of the most common as it allows you to have a clean cup of coffee and not worry too much about fermentation but it is the process that uses the most resources.

Washed method roasted coffee is used as the base of most espressos, as the bean mixes nicely with milk.

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Coffee Cherry FAQ

Do coffee cherries have caffeine?

Yes, coffee cherries contain caffeine. The cherry skin and pulp is often discarded in the washed processing method, but recently they have been used to make Cascara. Cascara tea uses dry coffee cherries that you steep in hot water, delivering a sweet yet caffeinated drink that is full of antioxidants. A cup of cascara will have a similar amount of caffeine as a cup of black tea, which is less caffeine than a regular cup of coffee.

What does a coffee cherry taste like?

A coffee cherry tastes like a very sweet fruit, almost like a berry or a raisin. Unripe coffee cherries might vary a little in taste depending on the colour of the coffee cherry or the coffee plant they grew from. The skin of the cherry is usually hard to bite and can sometimes taste a little bitter depending on whether it is at its peak.