In the coffee world, there are two primary beans that you’re most likely going to hear about: Arabica, and robusta (which is kind of like arabica’s annoying little sibling). While all coffee has origins in Africa, both beans vary slightly. Arabica is the more expensive of the two, has a broader flavor range, and smells like blueberries in its unroasted state. It’s also more susceptible to cold, coffee pests, and has to be grown at higher altitudes. Robusta isn’t picky and can be grown at any altitude or temperature, doesn’t pay too much attention to bugs, and has more caffeine than its sister (about double the amount). But it tastes really, really harsh. But there’s a new kid on the block that’s been stealing the thunder from these two, and that is Peaberry coffee.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t really have anything to do with peas, other than its shape. While it’s not a different species of bean, Peaberry coffee is like the mysterious relative that suddenly showed up on your family tree. Was the coffee family trying to keep it hidden away because it’s so freakin’ awesome? Possibly. But now the secret is out, and it’s time you start celebrating the arrival of the illustrious peaberry bean.
First, an anatomy lesson…and some backstory
A coffee bean is actually the seed of a coffee cherry. Inside each coffee cherry, there are usually two seeds all snuggled up together, with one flat side facing in and the round side facing out. A peaberry is a mutation inside the coffee cherry. Instead of two beans (or seeds), there’s only one, single round bean. This mutation occurs in five to seven percent of coffee cherries, and because coffee sorting is more commonly done manually—thank you, coffee farmworkers—the process becomes a bit more tedious. It’s the almost literal needle in a haystack (or peaberry in a normal coffee cherry sorting scenario? You get the idea).
Also, when it comes to this mutation, both arabica and robusta are fair game. The peaberry variant doesn’t discriminate, though it does more frequently show up in specific regions of the Bean Belt (a latitude and longitudinal part of the planet that produces pretty much all the world’s coffee). These peaberry hotspots are Kona, Kenya, Brazil, and Tanzania.
Peaberry tastes better and has more caffeine
Coffee aficionados claim that peaberry coffee is actually sweeter and more flavorful than java juice made from bland, normal, everyday beans. The pseudo-reasoning behind this—apparently no one is really that interested in investing time and money into the scientific research associated with the peaberry—is that all the energy the coffee plant produces is going into one seed, not two. Because that solo bean isn’t fighting with its twin for energy, its nutritional content ends up being higher, which yields a stronger, better tasting bean. This also means that the singular bean gets double the sugar, which makes it taste sweeter.
The peaberry’s shape also affects the taste of the bean. Because it has more surface area, it’s able to better absorb heat and cook at a more uniform level (roasters love this, because there’s nothing worse than a burnt batch o’ beans…it smells horrendous).
Caffeine content is a little tricky when it comes to the peaberry. It really depends on the variety (origin, blend, and species) of the bean. While arabica (what 75 percent of commercial coffees consist of) is basically 1.2 percent caffeine, the funky-tasting robusta is double that. Kona comes in at 1.32 percent caffeine, and Tanzanian peaberry takes the cake at 1.42 percent. If the peaberry is harvested from a robusta plant, then it’s caffeine contact is much, much higher. So while it’s not an incredibly big difference, peaberry does give you a bit more jolt for your dollar.
Should you really drink mutated coffee?
The question you should be asking yourself is why haven’t you tried it sooner? OK, so some people might think it’s a fad, but peaberry ain’t going anywhere, friends. It’s naturally occurring, so you might as well just embrace it and enjoy it. Besides, if every peaberry found during the sorting process was discarded, it would end up breaking down in a landfill somewhere, creating methane and greenhouse gasses that eat away at our beautiful planet’s atmosphere. And you don’t really want that, right?
By drinking peaberry coffee, you’re not only removing this potential coffee by-product from landfills, you’re also providing another source of income for coffee farmers. Sounds like a win-win situation.
If you’re digging the peaberry scene and want to see what all the hype is about, here are a few great peaberry starter options for you to sit and sip on:
Black Powder Coffee: Peaberry Blend
This medium roast is a blend of 100 percent peaberry coffee from Tanzania and Brazil. It’s Rainforest Certified, which means that it’s produced by companies, or farmers, who are committed to creating a world where humans and nature can harmoniously coexist. That sure sounds nice, doesn’t it?
If you’re already a coffee connoisseur, then this coffee might convert you to going 100 percent peaberry. Which would be a great thing for peaberry farmers.
Kahawa 1893: Kenyan Peaberry Coffee
This medium-light roast is referred to as a single-origin, which means the beans in the bag come from a single location (as opposed to a blending of two coffee bean cultures). It has a floral aroma, with flavors hinting at caramel and orange.
If this “anytime anywhere” coffee hasn’t fully piqued your interest, perhaps knowing that it’s available at over 200 Trader Joe’s locations—and is actually the grocer’s first Black woman-owned coffee brand to be sold there—might get you a little excited.
Green World Coffee: 100% Maui Peaberry
Green World Coffee is a small micro-plantation located on the north side of Oahu, Hawaii. For the record, this is the most densely populated island and home to the famous Waikiki Beach and Banzai Pipeline. And yet, there’s a coffee plantation and roaster located there. They also source green coffee beans from islands across Hawaii, including the Aloha State’s second largest island, Maui. Green World Coffee’s Maui Peaberry is highly sought after by locals and visitors alike. Now that Green World has their online shop going, you can save yourself the airfare.
This medium roast makes a full-bodied cup of joe with notes of citrus and cocoa. It’s perfect for sipping out on the lanai—in the states, it’s called a porch—and daydreaming that you’re actually on a lanai in Hawaii.
Volcanica Coffee Company: Peaberry Coffee
Volcanica Coffee Company gives you multiple different peaberry coffees to choose from (16 to be exact). All of these beans are roasted to a medium profile and have a much deeper flavor than your typical bean. They’re all single origins and Kosher certified—which is something you really don’t see every day.
You can even filter by certification (Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, organic, or shade-grown). Volcanica makes sure there’s something for everyone, so you’re allowed to be picky. If you can’t decide where to start, try one of Volcanica’s starter packs. That’ll make your tastebuds erupt with tons of peaberry flavor.
Leap Coffee: Zanzibar Peaberry
Zanzibar is famous for two things: Spices (like clove, ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom), and Freddie Mercury. This medium-light blend has an almost Rooibos tea-like quality—that means notes of honey, herbs, and a sweet, creamy finish.
With elements of pear and carob (that’s a chocolate substitute with an almost nutty flavor), it basically sounds like the coffee version of a chocolate-covered fruit and nut plate. Freddie would probably approve of this coffee.