Peaberry coffee has a certain mystique in the coffee world. It’s whispered as if an illicit but exciting secret has just been discovered.
But does it leave you scratching your head and wondering: what is peaberry coffee and are the beans really that special?
With so many strong opinions about the intriguing coffee beans, this article will allow you to break through the myths and get to the truth. So, read on to become fully informed on all things peaberry coffee – you will soon be joining in the heated discussions with coffee nerds in hipster coffee shops.
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But, let’s take a step back to where coffee beans actually come from. All coffee beans come from the coffee cherry – a big, red fruit that grows on trees. Inside, there are (usually) two seeds sitting side-by-side – these are the green coffee beans.
However, peaberry coffee (also known as a caracol which is Spanish for snail) is when just a single seed develops inside the coffee cherry.
By not having to grow with a twin, the beans don’t develop one flat side. Instead, peaberry beans are smaller and rounder than regular coffee beans.
These ‘only child’ beans occur naturally in around 5% of the world’s coffee cherries. But there is no way to encourage this to happen in the coffee plant: it is a completely random process.
Many people would love it if peaberry coffee beans could be guaranteed in a crop as they fetch a higher price and are widely considered amongst the world’s best coffee beans. However, whilst many prefer the sweeter taste, there are plenty who say there is no difference in flavor.
The truth (to us) is that peaberry coffee falls somewhere in the middle: The quality can be incredible but it’s not necessarily a superior coffee. The usual caveats apply where it depends on growing conditions, altitude, harvesting, processing, and roasting as well as the natural flavors of the seeds.
In terms of flavor, many people wax lyrical about peaberries being sweeter, lighter, and more flavorful than regular beans from the same crop.
Some roasters will also tell you that peaberry is easier to roast thanks to the round shape and lack of a flat side. Whilst others will tell you they are harder to roast citing exactly the same reasoning. Either way, they roast differently which is why it’s important to separate out the high-grade coffee peaberry beans wherever possible.
But tasting and roasting differently does not guarantee a superior coffee bean.
Part of the rationale as to why peaberry coffee beans are “higher quality” than regular whole bean coffee is that the seeds don’t have to share the energy and goodness with a twin. So, it has more deliciousness. In theory, this is perfectly sensible and logical but the reality is wild variations between growing conditions, processing, and roasting meaning varying quality.
What makes peaberry coffee superior to other coffee beans is how they are treated. As a higher value commodity – regardless of whether or not they are intrinsically better – they are almost exclusively treated with more care. So you could well get a better cup purely from that.
Just don’t expect every peaberry to be better than every non-peaberry brew.
In terms of caffeine, peaberry beans generally have a slightly higher caffeine content by weight than regular coffee beans. This makes sense if you follow the argument of all the energy and good stuff being imparted to one, not two, coffee seeds.
According to Coffee.org, Tanzanian Peaberry has 1.42% caffeine whilst most other beans come in at around 1-1.37%. So, this is a 10-40% higher caffeine content per bean, depending on where it is grown.
On the other hand, if stronger is in reference to the flavor then there isn’t any evidence to really back up a difference between regular and peaberry coffee beans. Again, it all comes down to differences in growing region/ conditions like the soil or altitude, and what happens after the berries are picked.
And there is plenty of choice out there too:
It’s possible to find these special coffee beans from nearly every region in the world. Basically anywhere regular coffee beans are grown, it’s possible to get peaberries in the crop.
For maximum freshness, it’s always best to buy direct from the roasters. Doing so ensures your beans are freshly roasted for that peak peaberry flavor.
Bear in mind, however, that they are very labor-intensive to harvest and process. This is why you’ll probably find the odd peaberry in your bag of normal coffee beans as not all farms have the resources to separate them out. But it also means you will need to pay nearly double the price. If you come across some cheap peaberry coffee, it should be treated with suspicion as to the labor practices used.
But to help narrow down the right choice for you, we’ve selected our favorite peaberry coffee beans from around the world, each with different flavor profiles. So, try the one that excites you the most – or one of each so you can fully explore the world of peaberry.
Volcanica – Jamaican Blue Mountain Peaberry
From the legendary Blue Mountain region of Jamaica comes this stunning peaberry coffee.
The Jamaican Blue Mountains are one of the most prized coffee-growing regions globally. As a result, there are special protections from the Jamaican government to ensure only exceptional quality coffee is grown using sustainable practices. The whole area is overseen by the Jamaican Coffee Industry Board which ensures strict growing criteria:
All coffee labeled as “Blue Mountain” is grown at altitudes between 2,000 and 5,000 feet around the parishes of Portland, St. Andrew, and St. Thomas. 90% of this exclusive coffee is sold in Japan, leaving just 10% left for the rest of the world. This results in higher prices due to scarcity.
This offering from Volcanica is a stunning example of Caribbean peaberry coffee:
Washed processing shows off the natural flavors of Jamaican coffee. You can expect a floral, creamy mouthfeel with chocolate and light citrus flavors. Typical for island coffee, these Blue Moutain coffee beans are incredibly well-balanced and mild on the palate.
Koa Coffee – Kona Peaberry
100% Kona coffee from the Hawaiian islands is considered very special. This is partly due to the high labor costs that make it economically unviable to grow anything less than the best quality coffee.
The peaberry Kona coffee is therefore exceptionally special. So special, in fact, that it is sometimes referred to as the champagne of Kona. And, when enjoying this champagne-coffee, you will soon see where the name comes from:
When brewed, the peaberry has a wonderful balance of bright juicy flavors and light refreshing acidity. The great balance is thanks to the volcanic soil and high elevation of the Kona region.
Coffee producers in Hawaii make most of their money selling to tourists and piggybacking on the quality of the “Kona” name. So avoid anything that says “Kona Blend” as this will be just a small amount of Kona coffee beans blended with beans from the lesser regions of the islands.
Kona Peaberry is in incredibly high demand (and only 3-5 bags in every 100 are peaberry) meaning it’s not always possible to get your hands on some. But when you do, oh boy is it worth it.
Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC – Tanzanian Peaberry
Fresh Roasted’s Tanzanian Peaberry is farmed in the Mbeya region in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. This area is Tanzania’s biggest Arabica producer, and it is the 100% Bourbon Arabica beans that the peaberries are sourced from.
The Tanzanian peaberry is rich but mild-bodied with a crisp finish that stops the brew from overpowering your senses. Grown on farms 4,000 to 6,500 feet above sea level, the slow development of flavors within the beans creates a complex cup of joe.
Being lightly roasted, the beans have a citrusy and floral aroma, a mild body, and a bright, clean finish. The light roasting allows you to fully appreciate the differences between growing regions but it’s not for everyone as it doesn’t have the traditional “coffee” taste.
As a company, Fresh Roasted is committed to working with the communities that grow their coffee and to minimizing their carbon footprint. They roast all of their coffee beans in an environmentally friendly Loring roaster which has allowed them to cut 80% of their carbon emissions.
The fact that many producers treat it as special means that it will often be of a higher quality than their other beans. Even if all other factors are equal.
Getting some peaberry beans to try at home can be an expensive experience. But they’re well worth the investment:
Intoxicating in their flavors and complexity, you can experience the real variations between growing regions. And, soon, you will be a regular peaberry coffee drinker. Or, at least on the special occasions that deserve a treat that your everyday brew just can’t manage.
Of all the coffee grown around the world, only 5-10% are peaberries. And harvesting peaberry coffee involves separating them out by hand. So, the extra cost to you covers the extra wage costs for the very labor-intensive process.
Plus, you pay for quality. Quality in the way that the beans are processed. And quality in flavor.
The flavor of peaberry coffee depends on who you ask:
Some coffee lovers will tell you it tastes far superior thanks to the lighter, sweeter, and more flavorful brew that it creates. Whilst others are adamant that there is no difference when stacked up next to regular coffee beans.
There’s really only one way to answer this definitively (for you): Try some peaberry coffee beans!
Peaberry coffee beans are an expensive treat so you want to brew them with the respect they command. That said, you can treat them like any other coffee beans:
Pick the best peaberry coffee based on your preferred brewing method and ensure they are at the right roast level. Freshly grind your beans and brew away. There really isn’t a ‘bad’ way to drink this magical coffee.
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