What is Peaberry Coffee?
There’s a lot of jargon that goes into coffee that can be tough on new coffee drinkers. Veterans of this rich brew will talk about flavor profiles, how the beans were processed, how much pressure the espresso needed, roasting techniques, and more. But one of the more exciting things that interest coffee enthusiasts is peaberry coffee. There’s a lot of debate surrounding this unique oddity of the coffee world, so let’s discuss what makes these prized beans more or less enjoyable than the average cup of joe.
Peaberry coffee is a type of coffee bean that is shaped differently than your average coffee. Because of this, it roasts differently, which often requires growers to pick them out. These oddly shaped green beans are then processed separately and prepared to be shipped on their own. The final result are peaberry beans that cost significantly more than regular coffee. While some people insist that they taste better than the normal stuff, others claim that there’s absolutely no difference between the two.
Where Peaberry Comes From
Most of the time, there are two separate seeds growing inside of a coffee cherry. They’re facing each other, and so when they get bigger, forming coffee beans, they press into each other. This causes them to be flat, and are named flatberry. This is what most coffee is, and roasts slightly unevenly. But 5-15% of the time, only one of the seeds germinates. The resulting coffee bean hasn’t been pressed flat, ending up round, like a pea. Hence the name “peaberry”. These beans have to be separated, since their shape changes how they roast.
This genetic mutation has a chance of happening in any coffee cherry, in any region of the world. So there is no way to force a plant to grow peaberries, and there is no region that specializes in them. This is part of what leads to the allure of these beans, since they’re completely out of the grower’s control. These beans have to be hand picked out of the rest of the crop, which is part of what drives the price up.
Peaberry vs. Flatberry
Peaberries are rounder and larger than flatberries, since they’ve had twice the space to grow inside the cherry. Because of this, they have to be hand picked out while the crop is being processed, and are handled separately. Flatberries have an uneven shape, which results in a less consistent roast than with their rounder counterparts. But that’s about the only quantitative difference between the two varieties. Everything else is a matter of opinion, and causes quite a bit of debate among avid coffee drinkers.
Some people think that peaberries absorb more nutrients from the coffee cherry, resulting in a more flavorful final product. Or that the beans roast more evenly, causing your brew to have a deeper, bolder flavor. Others point out that, since the beans are hand picked, any impure ones are tossed out, resulting in higher quality. Regardless of how accurate these statements are, there’s no denying that it impacts the price. These beans can cost significantly more, limiting them to only the most dedicated coffee drinkers.
The Roasting Process
Because peaberry and flatberry beans roast differently, they have to be separated. Otherwise, you’d have an inconsistent roast, with some beans getting toasty more quickly than others. This is one of the biggest factors in what impacts the flavor of these beans. Regular coffee beans have one flat surface and one rounded surface. So the edges of the flat part will actually get roasted more than the rest of the bean, which can result in some brews having hints of overdone, burnt coffee beans.
Of course, that’s nothing new, and the industry has been making gourmet coffee for decades with this limitation. But peaberry beans have a single smooth, rounded surface. So when you roast them, you can get a perfectly even, toasty bean, whether you want it to be lighter or darker. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth the extra money, but to many coffee pros, it’s a trade off they’re willing to make.
Why is Peaberry More Expensive?
While there’s still a ton of debate around whether or not peaberries are actually better than regular flatberry coffee, roasters still charge extra. Of course, it’s on the consumer to decide if the price difference is worth it. These beans do actually have a number of economic differences that bring up the price. You have to consider supply, how well they roast, and the extra labor involved in picking them. Combine that with the fact that some people are more than willing to pay the extra cash, and you have a pricey coffee product.
These beans come from a pretty rare genetic mutation. It only occurs to about 5% of the coffee beans that we pick. That means that peaberries are incredibly rare, which brings up the price. We all learned about supply and demand in school, and this is a textbook case. Even if these beans taste exactly the same as regular beans, there are fewer of them. If they were the same price, people would buy them first, so roasters raise the prices until they sell out their stock at the same rate as flatberries.
This may seem silly to the average coffee drinker, but to a more avid coffee fan, it makes a huge difference. These beans can be seen as a sort of luxury or status item. You can prove your dedication to coffee by paring for the premium. That’s assuming that they taste the same, but they may actually taste better than regular beans.
As we already discussed, flatberries have an uneven shape that can result in their roast being compromised. Those little edges make up quite a bit of the coffee’s total surface area. It’s pretty easy to burn the whole batch by over roasting them just a bit. The geometry of the peaberry beans simply makes their roast more consistent. That’s a fact that can’t be denied, but the question is whether or not you can taste it.
Roasters have always worked with flatberries, and they’ve long since learned how to get the perfect roast despite the shape. So peaberrys may get an even roast more easily. It’s not like regular coffee is going to be burnt and uneven. If anything, you can buy green peaberries to try roasting your own coffee at home It’s easier to get a smooth roast out of them.
There’s such a complex infrastructure that goes into getting coffee beans from the ground to your kitchen that it’s amazing that beans don’t cost more. The farming, processing, shipping, roasting, and grinding all rely on a network of sellers, buyers, and middlemen. Peaberries require even more work, which can be tedious and agonizing for the coffee growers. This is one of the fundamental reasons that these beans are more expensive, since they take up more labor.
During the processing stage of the coffee industry, workers have to sort through all of the beans by hand to pick out impurities and peaberries. This is how we get this unique, oddly shaped bean, and that alone is enough to drive up the price. But since each bean is hand picked, you have a much lower chance of having any irregular beans. So some people believe that when you buy a bag of peaberries, you’re getting fewer low quality beans, also bringing up the price.
Does Peaberry Have More Caffeine?
There’s nothing quite like the rush of energy you get after that first cup of java in the morning. Even in the late afternoon, the caffeine content in coffee is a huge part of what makes the drink so popular in America. Peaberry beans can be any bean, be it Robusta or Arabica, light roast or dark roast. So if you’re trying to maximize your caffeine intake in each cup, reach for a light roast that has more caffeine, or stick to a Robusta blend.
If you’re trying to avoid caffeine because you have a caffeine intolerance, or you’re afraid of a coffee crash, you can still pick peaberries. You can find them decaffeinated, or get them as a French roast, which has less caffeine. These options all provide you with a low caffeine option while still getting these premium beans.
Picking Your Specialty Coffee
When it comes down to mastering your morning brew, there’s plenty of options your have. Whether you’re just upgrading your grinder and coffee machine, or you’re going all in on roasting your own gourmet green beans, there’s always something you can do to make your cup of joe a little better. Peaberry coffee is just one more way you can try to pack a little more flavor into every morning’s brew. So even if you don’t buy that the beans are that much better, it’s at least worth a shot to maximize every morning’s coffee.