Coffee and the coffee bean are victims of probably one of the greatest misnomers in history.
We know that coffee comes from trees, and the stuff we make the drink from is the coffee bean.
So what is it? Is coffee a fruit, a vegetable, a bean, or a nut?
The short answer is that the coffee cherry is the fruit of the coffee tree, and the bean we make the coffee from is actually the seed of the coffee cherry.
Is coffee a fruit?
Coffee beans are not fruits, but they come from the dried and roasted seeds (coffee beans) of the coffee cherry, which is the fruit of the coffee tree. The coffee tree has waxy green leaves and bears fruit in clusters.
By definition, a fruit is:
In botany, a fruit is the seed-bearing structure in flowering plants that is formed from the ovary after flowering. Fruits are the means by which flowering plants disseminate their seeds.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit
It takes about a year after planting for the trees to flower, and another year for them to bear fruit.
What are coffee cherries?
Coffee cherries (and also other members of the genus “coffea”) are red drupes that contain two seeds (coffee beans).
About 10% of coffee cherries contain just a single seed called a peaberry.
When the fruit is ripe, it becomes yellow or purple in color, then splits open to reveal its seeds (beans), which are picked and processed before they can be roasted.
Can you eat coffee cherries?
You could eat coffee cherries, but the pulp is very runny and slimy, so it would not sit well with most people. Those who have been brave enough to try eating a coffee cherry describe the taste as similar to mango or watermelon.
While you don’t usually eat coffee cherries, many cultures dry the removed pulp and use it to make coffee cherry tea, or cascara. Cascara is very fruity in flavor and tastes nothing like brewed coffee!
Related: Arabica vs Robusta
Is coffee a vegetable?
For whatever reason, some folks seem to think coffee is a vegetable. My best guess is that since beans are considered vegetables, so coffee beans are also vegetables.
The definition of a vegetable is a little looser than that of a fruit:
Vegetables are parts of plants that are consumed by humans or other animals as food. The original meaning is still commonly used and is applied to plants collectively to refer to all edible plant matter, including the flowers, fruits, stems, leaves, roots, and seeds.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetable
Since this definition of vegetable does include seeds as part of the vegetable family, it would seem that both the coffee fruit and coffee bean could be considered a vegetable.
Is coffee a bean?
The pressing questions just keep coming, right?
So the next thing to address is whether coffee is a bean or not. We refer to the coffee seed as a coffee bean, but that’s most likely due to the bean-like shape of the seed.
Beans, in fact, are legumes:
A legume is a plant in the family Fabaceae, or the fruit or seed of such a plant. When used as a dry grain, the seed is also called a pulse.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legume
Since coffee is not part of the Fabaceae plant family, we can safely declare once and for all that coffee is not a bean.
Is coffee a nut?
Since coffee beans are actually the hard parts that we eat from inside a fruit, does that make them nuts?
Here’s what a nut is:
A nut is a fruit consisting of a hard or tough nutshell protecting a kernel which is usually edible. In general usage and in a culinary sense, a wide variety of dry seeds are called nuts, but in a botanical context “nut” implies that the shell does not open to release the seed.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nut_(fruit)
So nuts themselves are the fruit, and they have a very hard shell. We’ve already established that the coffee cherry is the fruit, and the seed is the bean, so the nut definition does not fit here.
So that settles it! Coffee is a fruit with a thin peel and a thin pulp with a central pit. These fruits come from the evergreen bush which best grows on altitudes and in the shade.
Coffee won’t replace your daily requirement of fruit, but it’s still full of lots of antioxidants and goodness to keep you going all day!