What is inside a coffee cherry and how does it affect your cup of coffee?

A small bunch of red and green coffee cherries.
Red coffee beans on a branch of a coffee tree, displaying ripe and unripe berries isolated on white background.

Have you ever wondered what is inside a coffee cherry? How does it affect your cup of coffee? How many times have you said to yourself; I must Google the answer later, and never have? Would you like to know all the processes that go into providing you with that simple cup of coffee?

The answer is simple, the beans come from a bright red coffee cherry.

But, you may already know this fact. So, what is inside a coffee cherry and how does it affect your cup of coffee?

There are crucial parts to the inside of a coffee cherry, and each has its own importance on the final processing method that is adapted to creating your brew of choice.

Red coffee cherries and dry coffee beans.
A beautifully displayed bowl of ref coffee cherries with an abundance of dry coffee beans as a base.

The first fascinating thing to remember when we roast, grind and brew our coffee beans, they initially were the seeds of a fruit.

Each coffee plant produces its coffee cherries, and each will contain one or two seeds inside of them.

Another surprising fact regarding the coffee plant with their deep green, and waxy looking leaves, when left alone can grow to over 30 feet tall. With each branch displaying an abundance of coffee cherries.

When you visit the coffee farms around the world, you will see nearly all the farmers prune and cut back on a regular basis to allow the plants to conserve their energy and to help in the harvesting processing.

Like many other plants and shrubs such as roses, pruning regularly will give a better yield and quality in a limited space.

It will often take between three to four years for each plant to yield the fruit and you can expect the average plant to produce around 10lbs of coffee cherries in an average year. In turn, these result in the production of around 2lbs of green beans.

The coffee growing belt that expands around the globe will harvest many varieties of coffee, and the beans will naturally have many characteristics. These same variations will affect the flavour, their size and what level of resistance to diseases each has.

The Anatomy of a coffee cherry.
An infogram showing the inside of a coffee cherry.

Let’s look at the insides of a coffee cherry.

The thin red skin of the cherry is known as the Exocarp. It starts life green in colour until it ripens into a bright red cherry. You can see this in the pic above. In some varieties, you will find the colour change to pink, yellow or orange.

Remember: it is easy to become confused with green coffee cherries and green coffee beans. The latter is the unroasted seeds that as I have said are found inside of each ripen coffee cherry.

  • The next layer below the Exocarp is a thin layer known as the Mesocarp or for ease of remembering you can refer to as the Pulp which houses the water and sugars.
  • Within the pulp, you will discover a thinner layer known as the sweet coating Mucilage.
  • This is where you will also find another layer known as pectin. All these layers are full of sugars which makes them crucial during the coffee fermenting process.

Now we finally come to the coffee seeds themselves. In the coffee industry they are known as the Endosperm, but, like the rest of us, you can refer to them as the beans.

You will usually find two beans inside each coffee cherry, and each is covered by a thin layer of Epidermis or silverskin followed by a papery hull – Endocarp we refer to as the parchment.

This parchment will be removed as the first step of hulling in the drying process. All evidence of the remaining fruit is also removed from each of the beans.

Machinery used in the latter stages of washing the cherries.

I mentioned earlier the Epidermis, this layer is made up of a group of cells called Sclerenchyma cells. These cells are robustly attached to each of the beans. They act to support and protect the seeds themselves. During the roasting process, these cells will naturally fall away and are known as the Chaff.

Prior to roasting, the inside of each coffee cherry is removed and the beans dried to approximately 11% of moisture content.

There are two commonly used methods for extracting the cherry skin.

They are known as the washed process (with water) and the dried process.

This latter process allows the coffee to dry under the sun naturally. Thereafter, placed in machines to extract the skins.

In around 5% of coffee cherries when opened, will reveal only one seed inside. You will find them rounder and larger in size. These beans are called Peaberries.

They are usually formed due to insufficient pollination, or because the other seed has simply not grown. Peaberries will occur where the coffee plant is exposed to extreme weather conditions. Hence why you will often see banana trees near the Colombian coffee plants to add protection.

Farmers, tend to treat the peaberries different to the usual crop to avoid any inconsistencies when roasting.

A handful of dry parchment beans.
A handful of dry parchment beans.

What bearing does anatomy impact on your regular cup of coffee?

In most cases, the coffee cherry skin is discarded. But, thankfully some entrepreneurs and pioneers are exploring the beautiful taste of Cascara.

A brew of cascara in a clear cup.
A brew of cascara in a clear cup.

Only yesterday I was given a cup of this fantastic brew. When you see it for the first time, it looks like tea, it smells like tea, and it tastes like a fruit flavour tea. Then you discover the primary ingredient is the skins of coffee cherries!

From the moment, the mild flavour with a hint of sweetness of Cascara hit my lips I was hooked. I feel this is the most delicious and refreshing tea I have ever tasted.

The flavour for me is so reminiscent of a mild mix of fruits such as red mulberry, cranberry raspberries and of course cherries.

Coffee farmers do find it difficult to remove the skin and mucilage from the coffee beans. Over time they have managed to design and develop numerous methods to achieving the desired outcome.

The only thing for you to reflect on is each method can and does have an effect on the profile and taste of the coffee, you are about to drink.

  • With washed coffee, the fruit is completely removed before the drying process.
  • In natural coffee, the fruit flesh is removed after the drying process.
  • Regarding the honey coffee process and pulped natural process. Coffee cherry skin and large parts of the mucilage are removed before the drying process. Afterwards, the remaining mucilage is removed.

The term Honey is down to the mucilage being extraordinary sticky and sweet just like real honey. If you ever get the opportunity to savour a honey processed coffee, you will immediately notice their sweet delicious flavours.

Coffee cherries begin germinating as soon as they leave the branch, by utilising the sugar in the seeds. The germination only stop when the drying process starts.

From the insides of the coffee cherry to your favouite cup of coffee.

Hopefully, after reading this article on “ what is inside a coffee cherry and how does it affect your cup of coffee?” you will not need to Google every time the question comes up. In fact, why not share my articles on the world of coffee to all friends, colleagues, family and coffee fanatics.

The incredible history of coffee

What is the history of colombian coffee and why is it famous?

What is the coffee bean growing belt?

Now you know the inside of a coffee cherry. So, when savouring your next favourite brew pause and wonder no more.

Mike’s Bio.

Mike Bowley is an Indoor Coffee Houseplant & Colombian Giftware Importer, SEO Content Writer, Baby Boomer, and published Author. He thrives on creating alliances with Artisanal Cafe Owners, and Garden Centers with artisanal product makers in Colombia.

He enjoys helping “Newbie” website owners & fellow Baby Boomer Online Entrepreneurs to get their relevant content onto web pages and mobiles.

Mike has spent over 50 years in marketing, and now shares his life and work between the UK and Colombia. He is also a regular writer on both Viviamaridi and WattPad.

Visit his author’s website here: mikebowley.com.

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