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Are coffee beans a fruit? Answered by Monsieur Coffee
We all know coffee beans in their roasted form. The dark brown oval-shaped things that we grind into the dust that gives life to our favorite drink.
But do you know where those beans come from? And are they really beans? Or, are coffee beans – as many people seem to think – actually a fruit?
Coffee beans themselves are not fruit. They are the seeds of a fruit, namely the coffee cherry. Most coffee cherries contain two coffee beans. When ripe, the coffee fruit (a.k.a. the coffee cherries) are harvested and processed to obtain the coffee beans.
That’s the short answer. But if you think just a little further, a lot of other questions come up. We call them coffee beans, but are they really beans? Does that make them a legume? Or even a vegetable?
Wow, so many questions. Let’s dive in.
Where do coffee beans come from?
Coffee beans are – as said – the seeds from a coffee cherry. Coffee cherries are red or purple fruits (when ripe) that grow on coffee plants, botanically known as plants from the Coffea family.
These plants won’t grow anywhere. They are very particular about the circumstances in which they need to grow. The best place to grow coffee plants is in a mild climate with temperatures between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit (20 and 25 degrees Celcius), and they don’t like too much sun. This means that the coffee plant grows best in a tropical or subtropical climate.
These climates are mostly found in countries around the equator. More specifically, in the equatorial regions of South and Middle America, Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. These regions are all part of what is known as the Coffee Belt.
The coffee plant will yield its first harvest after about five years. When the coffee cherries are harvested, they are processed to remove the cherry’s pulp and skin. The result is what is known as green coffee beans. These unroasted coffee beans are transported to coffee roasters worldwide, where they are roasted before they land in your favorite coffee shop or in your kitchen at home.
Are coffee beans seeds?
We actually covered this already, but just to make sure it is clear: yes, coffee beans are seeds. They are the seeds of a fruit that is commonly known as the coffee cherry.
In general, fruits carry the seeds of a plant. A fruit is (according to Wikipedia) the seed-bearing structure of a flowering plant, formed after flowering (source).
The fruit helps a plant to disperse its seeds as the fruits are eaten by humans and animals who spread the seeds from the place the plant which bears the fruit grows.
There is a distinction between the term “fruit” in a botanical sense and in everyday language. In common language, a fruit is the fleshy seed-bearing product of a plant that can be eaten. Think of: apples, grapes, oranges, and strawberries.
In botanical usage, a “fruit” includes a lot of produce that isn’t commonly called a fruit, including bean pods, corn kernels, tomatoes, and grains.
Although they are not commonly eaten by humans, coffee cherries are considered a fruit both in botanical and common language usage. And as fruits bear seeds, coffee beans are considered to be seeds, not beans.
Are coffee beans legumes?
A legume is a plant (or its fruit or seed) from a particular family of plants.
The botanical family name (in Latin) of these plants is the Fabaceae or Leguminosae. This family of plants is grown agriculturally for human or livestock consumption.
You probably know many legumes: beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts are all legumes.
The coffee cherry (which contains the coffee beans) is the fruit of the Coffea family of plants. It has varieties such as the Coffea Arabica (which yields Arabica coffee beans) and the Coffea Canephora (which yields Robusta coffee beans).
The coffee plant is not from the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family of plants. Therefore, coffee beans are not a legume. They are seeds of a fruit.
Are coffee beans a vegetable?
By now, you might be able to guess the answer to this one.
Some people seem to think that because coffee beans are called beans, they are a vegetable. This would technically make coffee a vegetable juice. Wouldn’t that be nice? 🙂
But, unfortunately, coffee beans won’t count towards your daily vegetable needs. Beans, to be precise, are not vegetables (they are technically legumes), but that is beside the point.
Coffee beans are the pits or seeds from a coffee cherry, which is a fruit.
So, coffee beans are not vegetables, and coffee, therefore, is not a vegetable juice. Coffee beans are the seeds of a fruit: the coffee cherry.
Why are coffee beans called 'beans'?
We have established that coffee beans are the pits or seeds of a fruit.
But why then are they called beans?
I think a lot of the confusion around whether coffee beans are fruit, legumes, or vegetables originates from the name we have given it. If you haven’t read just about anything there is to read about coffee (i.e., when you are not a total coffee geek like I am), it is really confusing.
But it is real simple: coffee beans are called ‘beans’ because they look like beans.
That is all there is to it.
Someone, somewhere, at some point, started calling the seeds from a coffee cherry beans, and it stuck. People started doing the same, and over time the term coffee bean got established.
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