What are Coffee Beans? – The ONLY Guide You’ll Need!

Have you ever pondered the nature of the coffee bean that fills your daily brew? 

Contrary to common belief, coffee beans are not beans. Rather, they are green seeds found inside a fruit called a coffee cherry, which grows on coffee trees. Often, the brown coffee beans we purchase in package are already processed for us to consume.

In this article, we delve into exactly what coffee beans are, and broaden your vision in coffee journey.

Let’s get started!

Where do Coffee Beans Come from?

Coffee beans come from the cherries that grow on coffee trees, which are more scientifically known as the genus Coffea. A coffee tree is a bush-like plant which can grow up to 30 feet or about 9 meters tall. But usually, it trimmed shorter into a shrub to conserve energy in producing more high quality coffee beans.

A Bunch of Coffee Cherries

Legend has it that Kaldi, the goat herder, discovered coffee beans in the Ethiopian Plateous back in the 9th century. But coffee beans and its tree were formally described only in the 18th century by the Swedish botanist Carlous Linneus.

Since then coffee production has spread world-wide. Now, all commercial coffee beans come from the “coffee bean belt”.

The bean belt is the area around the equator between the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer. Many of the major coffee-growing countries, such as Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia and Indonesia are located on the coffee belt.

What makes the “bean belt” an ideal place for growing coffee beans is their nutrient-rich soils, mild temperatures, proper altitutes, frequent rain, and gentle sunlight. These factors all contribute to producing coffee beans with better aroma, supreme flavor, and higher yield.

Coffee Beans Anatomy

So, how do you get the coffee bean out of the coffee cherry?

Getting coffee beans out requires multiple steps of mechanical or chemical processing to peel off the layers that a coffee cherry has. Fundamentally, these include, silverskin, parchment, fruit or pulp, and the outerskin, from inside-out.

Layers of a Coffee Cherry

Inside all these layers, often times you find two raw and green coffee beans, which are formally called the endosperms. But 5% percent of the time, there is only one bean inside the coffee cherry. Such fruits are called peaberries and they occur due to natural mutation.

Some coffee enthusiasts believe that peaberries are tastier and more flavorful, but there is no clear evidence yet.

Common Misconception! Green coffee cherries are not green coffee beans. Green coffee cherries are unmatured fruits, while green coffee beans are the seeds inside the fruit.

Composition of Coffee Beans: What’s inside?

What triggers people to pursue coffee beans so much is the chemical composition inside it. Its sole constitution not only allows the plant to be self-supporting throught its life cycle,  but it also contributes to the addicting flavor of coffee and keeps us alert or awake.   

Coffee beans primarily consists of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and caffeine. Among these, caffeine is the chemical people seek in coffee and coffee beans, because it temporarily drives away sleepiness and restores energy.

On the other hand, lipids or fats mostly contributes to the rich flavor, notes, and texture in coffee beans, making the final brew more abundant and full-bodied. However, they are only stimulated until after processing and roasting of coffee beans.

More excitingly, each species of coffee beans has a distinct flavor and different caffeine amount.

Types of Coffee Beans

There are about 120 varieties of coffee beans in the world, whereas in the commercial coffee industry, there are only 4 types of coffee beans: arabica, robusta, liberica and excelsa.

Among these, the arabica and robusta species are the two most common types of coffee beans that people brew everyday. Let’s take a quick look at them.

Two of the Most Common Types of Coffee Beans: Arabica and Robusta

Arabaica Beans

Arabica coffee beans have a flat, elongated oval shape, with a pronounced center crease. They originated from Ethiopia, the birthplace of first coffee species. Arabica coffee beans are full of flavor and aroma, as well as high acidity. They have tones of fruits, chocolate, and nuts.

Arabica beans make up 60% of the worlds coffee production is from arabica bean. Brazil and Latin America are the two major producers.

Robusta Beans

Robusta coffee beans are slightly rounder and smaller than arabica, while also featuring a less prominent crease. They produce bitter, woody, and burnt-rubber-tasting coffee, along with a higher caffeine content, making them the best choice in brewing strong coffee or espresso drinks. However, despite being cheaper than arabica, not many fancy the taste of robusta coffee.

Interestingly, robusta coffee species occupies 40% of the world’s coffee market, even though they are more disease-resistant and has more relaxed growing conditions than arabica. Africa and Asia are the major growing regions for robusta.

What’s next?

Find out where your coffee beans come from! Explore how diffent regions affect the flavor of your coffee.

Better yet, learn about your preference in a more detailed guide! Do you like Arabica or Robusta better?


Are Coffee Beans legumes?

Coffee beans are not legumes, because legumes have a soft pod containing multiple seeds. But there isn’t a pod covering coffee beans, and there are only 2 coffee seeds inside of one cherry. The name “beans” is just because similarity of appearance.

Are Coffee Beans Healthy?

Generally, coffee beans are healthy. But one should be wary of limiting their daily caffeine intake to under 400 mg. However, for people who are more sensitive to caffeine, frequent coffee bean intake is not recommended.
Moreover, coffee beans are not healthy for house pets, such as dogs, as caffeine is a toxic chemical to them.

Are Coffee Beans from Animal Poop?

Some coffee beans come from animal poop, specifically from animals like palm civets or rhesus monkeys. However, they are not made of animal poop. Instead, coffee cherries are consumed by these animals. We later process with the indigestible coffee beans and turn them into Kopi Luwak and Monkey Coffee for their unique taste.

Are Coffee Beans Edible?

Coffee beans are edible. For eating roasted coffee beans, they are a bit hard, and the flavor is slightly milder, as well as less bitter. As for eating raw coffee beans, don’t expect the chocolate or floral flavors from it, and it will taste grassy and sponge-like.


Photo of author


Mesphird Yang

I have been brewing and drinking coffee for almost 6 years now. At first, I was just dazzled by how baristas look and that's why I started learning. In the long run, I became obsessed with its charm. I have tried many coffee brewing methods, with different kinds of beans in various roast levels. If I could have more than 4 cups of coffee a day, I definitely would!

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