As coffee lovers, we’re always on the lookout for better, more exciting coffee. And for many of us, that road leads us to Peaberry coffee. This is a coffee that, sellers claim, is unique and has a richer flavor than regular coffee.
And for those of us who’ve tried this type of coffee, it certainly makes a big impression on us. It feels different, and has a very distinct taste. For some, there is nothing better than Peaberry coffee. But… What is Peaberry coffee? Let’s find out.
Peaberry coffee: what are the odds?
The name comes from the fact these beans have a different shape than usual: coffee beans usually have a very defined oval shape. It’s one of the most memorable things about coffee beans. But Peaberry beans are much more round, they’re almost a perfect circle. They look chunkier and, in some cases, bigger. They look more like peas, particularly when unroasted.
Is Peaberry a different variety of coffee, which is why it looks different? No — not at all. It comes from exactly the same tree as most regular coffee (arabica).
You see, most coffee fruits have two beans inside them. But it happens that every once in a while one of those seeds will fail to grow, and it is absorbed by the other. So only a single bean grows inside the fruit: the Peaberry bean.
The odds for this are very low. Something between 2% and maybe up to 10%, depending on the region. Some countries and particular regions have become experts at growing Peaberry coffee, which is why a lot of this type of coffee seems to be associated with one place or another; in reality, Peaberry coffee occurs naturally everywhere.
Tanzania is one country that is world famous for its Peaberry coffee. Tanzanian coffee is already delicious, but somewhere along the way coffee growers found a way to churn out more and more Peaberry coffee, and today they are the world’s largest Peaberry coffee producers. Hawaii has recently discovered that they, too, have a higher natural incidence of this coffee, so Hawaii is positioning itself as one of the world’s most prolific Peaberry producers.
Still, we haven’t answered the most relevant question here: why is Peaberry coffee important? Isn't it just an innocuous mutation? Well, opinions are divided in this matter, which frankly makes it all the more interesting.
There are two theories on why Peaberry coffee is better:
#1: It is two beans in one. In many respects, actually. The first being that this sole bean is the receptor of all the nutrients that would otherwise go to two beans. This, in turn, would mean that it has a much richer, concentrated flavor and aroma than a regular coffee bean. It is, essentially, the flavor of two beans in one bean roughly the same size as any other bean.
This theory checks out in part. It has been observed that a single Peaberry coffee bean can contain almost twice the amount of a regular arabica coffee bean. This would, under normal circumstances, mean a more bitter coffee because caffeine is by nature a bitter substance. But Peaberry coffee isn’t any more bitter, meaning that, to some extent, it has enough sweetness and acidity to balance out the caffeine surplus.
Which does compute with the theory that a Peaberry bean is equivalent to two beans.
#2: It roasts better: roasting coffee is a rather complicated thing, and one could say that we’ve only really become efficient at it in this century. Still, it can be hard to achieve an even roast because of the oval shape of coffee beans, which isn’t ideal for roasting. A round shape, though? That is the absolute perfect shape as it aids in distributing heat evenly throughout the whole bean. It is believed by many roasters that Peaberry beans allow for a more thorough roast, and therein lies their superior flavor.
This theory is actually very hard to either prove or disprove. Nowadays, roasting machines are incredibly complex machines that are very automated and the biggest ones can roast upwards of a thousand pounds of beans per hour. It’s crazy.
But since historically, roasts don’t come out even, all these machines have been designed to compensate for this. So it can be hard to understand just how the particular shape of the Peaberry bean fares differently to that of the arabica bean, as these machines have been catered to that specific oval shape.
And even though there are roasters that claim Peaberry beans yield a more even roast, evidence is yet to be fabricated on this.
Should I buy Peaberry coffee?
Definitely! It definitely does taste different, although it is up to each individual person to judge whether that difference is for the best or not. Regardless, it is always a pleasure to try a different coffee.
When buying Peaberry coffee, it is very important to check that the blend is 100% Peaberry and not a mix between Peaberry and robusta. This is a common strategy to inflate the volume of the product, since robusta beans bear a closer resemblance to Peaberry than arabica does.
However, robusta has a flatter flavor, devoid of the complexities of arabica. That means that it might lead to that specific blend tasting average or below average — so be sure to take notice of this so you don’t attribute this averageness to Peaberry coffee.
As for the origin, most producers of Peaberry are known for their quality. If you’re in the US, Hawaiian Peaberry is possibly a better option because it will be cheaper. After all, Hawaii is close to the US so the cost of shipping isn’t as much as it would be for South American or African coffee.
Tanzanian Peaberry is legendary, although it may be a little more expensive because Tanzania is rather far away from the American continent. It is definitely the best option for those in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East as it is close by and it’s definitely the best Peaberry-growing country in the area.
How should I drink Peaberry coffee?
There is no single brewing method that is best for this type of coffee and it will in fact vary depending on the variety and origin of the coffee. There are, however, a couple of things you could take into account.
At first, it’s always a good idea to try drinking Peaberry coffee black so that you can savor the coffee in its most unadulterated form, which helps you have a better understanding of why some people swear by this coffee.
One of the best brewing methods for discerning even the subtlest of differences is the syphon. The Hario syphon is the perfect tool for this, quite affordable and nevertheless producing excellent coffee.
Brewing with a syphon and letting the coffee cool down is one of the favored ways for baristas to try out net batches of coffee for their coffee shop to decide whether to buy it or not. The cloth filter of the syphon helps balance out the flavor, and once coffee cools down you can more clearly experience the taste now that the aroma is out of the equation.
Why is Peaberry coffee so expensive?
As mentioned before, this is a mutation that occurs in, at most, only 10% of the harvest. That means that there is a special team that has to go through each bean, hand by hand, to sort out the Peaberry ones from the regular ones.
This, obviously, takes quite a lot of effort and is an extra step that requires extra work. Peaberry coffee is also a little more complicated to roast than regular coffee, so usually an expert hand in this particular type of coffee is needed to roast it, hence the slightly higher price of Peaberry.
Does Peaberry have more caffeine?
The fact that it has been observed does not mean that this is absolutely the case. On average, Peaberry coffee contains just about the same amount of caffeine as any other arabica coffee.
The difficulty here is that each Peaberry is born under very specific circumstances. It is very hard to predict exactly how much caffeine each of these beans will have: some may have more, some the same, and some may very well have less caffeine than usual.
So, to conclude, don’t buy Peaberry if what attracts you to it is a possible higher caffeine content, because it is unreliable at best.