All over the world, anything unusual is either considered lucky, special, and auspicious or very inauspicious, unlucky, and even evil. Having an extra thumb or an extra toe or being left-handed or having grey eyes, for instance. Well, at least we have coffee that doesn’t distinguish or differentiate, it refreshes everyone. But coffee too has something unusual – peaberry. ‘Peaberry’, the name sounds like a juicy, fruity, fresh berry, one in those deep pink or purple shades that could make for an awesome jam and jelly, doesn’t it. Well, it is not, it is just coffee. Peaberry beans are often quite expensive, they are rare, and different. Some peaberry drinkers swear by the peaberry and refuse to drink regular coffee anymore.
A normal coffee cherry contains two seeds or beans that grow nestled against each other. When one of these beans doesn’t develop properly, the other remaining bean takes over the extra space at the heart of the coffee cherry and becomes unusually round. These anomalies are known as peaberries and can account for 5-10% of a coffee harvest on an average, though not all one-sided beans can be classified as peaberries. Tanzania, Thailand, and Kona (Hawaii) are known for producing peaberries, though I have come across some Indian brands selling peaberries too. Because of their unique appearance, peaberries are occasionally sorted out from the other beans and sold separately. They can command quite a premium in the market too. It is commonly believed that peaberries have a superior cup profile compared to regular coffee beans. But is this a fact or a myth? Read on to find out.
The common logic that gets attached to peaberries is that since the bean doesn’t need to share the nutrients with another bean inside the fruit, the peaberry would have a superior flavor profile with concentrated & complex flavors. A lot of roasters do report higher density in peaberries. And coffee producers and roasters have opined that the flavor of peaberries are impacted by the same factors as coffee beans – variety, processing method, altitude, etc. So, though peaberries look special, and could be mildly different, they are no Cleopatras in a crowd. But, there are also people who would promise you that peaberries will have more complex notes, especially in the upper aromatic ranges, and will have a brighter acidity too.
Is it possible that peaberries are superior?
Experts believe that peaberries could be slightly sweeter than regular berries, it is possible. However, this is a possibility and may not hold true every time. Also, no scientific reason has been found yet as to when, where, and how this exactly happens. It is a possibility that this could happen because instead of two, there is now just one bean growing inside the cherry. There are people who have claimed that the peaberry has more nutritional value, and even that has greater acidity, though these claims are debatable. The round shape of the peaberry definitely allows for more even roasting and can probably absorb heat better, which does give rise to a possibility of a smoother overall taste of the peaberry. After a lot of research and reading, all I can say is that it is a possibility that peaberries could give you a somewhat different cup sometimes.
Is it possible that peaberries are just regular coffee?
Peaberries are generally strongly marketed, and most people who understand the coffee experience have found this to be more marketing, less truth. Chances are maybe we are just looking too hard to look for something that isn’t there, to an extent that we have begun believing that it is there! This is not me saying it, this is what I found an expert to have said.
My own experience with peaberries
A friend once shared a bag of peaberries with me, and though my experience in this area is quite limited, I personally feel my experience of drinking peaberry coffee hasn’t been all that different from drinking regular coffee. I didn’t find the cup to be any extra sweet that a regular cup, but my friend has been a regular peaverry drinker and she has found the cup to be occasionally slightly sweeter. But then, I personally feel it would depend on the variety, the roast, the processing, and so many other factors, and may not have been exclusively because it is a peaberry. (When I said this, I did get told off for not having a palate that’s fine enough to appreciate peaberry, so I just kinda shut up. A lot of you might have faced this too). If you are still confused about whether peaberries are different or not, try blind tasting, this would give you a clearer picture. Blind tasting can help you understand the sensory experience better without clouding your judgement with prejudices about what you are tasting. We were taught this as part of our sensory evaluation curriculum during my graduation studies, and it has been quite helpful.
Peaberries could be different, peaberries could be regular – either ways, coffee is delicious, and isn’t that what matters? Have it black, have it loaded with sugar and milk and cream, have it cold or hot, coffee makes us happy, and we are all allowed to have our own coffee preferences. So, if someone likes peaberries, go on, have some. (send some to me too please)
Well, what do you think – are peaberries special and superior than regular coffee, or are they just different looking regular coffee? Have you tasted peaberries? How did you find it? What are the peaberry varieties that you would recommend? Or like me, have you also been accused of not having a fine enough palette?
Every experience is a learning experience, and every cup of coffee can tell you so much about the coffee. You just need to keep your senses and your brain open. Life can teach you so much every step of the way, you just need to keep an open mind, and learn. And now, as I write this, I want to try some peaberry again. Any recommendations for me?
Would love to know your thoughts about coffee and peaberries. You can find me on Instagram – @banjaranfoodie and drop me a DM there. Or write a line in the comments below.