You might be tempted to yell "BLASPHEMY" at your screen...but it's true. Coffee beans are not beans.
All these years we've been referring to that little nugget of caffeinated goodness as a bean, when it's actually a seed. Or more specifically, a cherry pit.
But wait. Don't go digging all of those Bing or Rainier cherry pits out of your trash so you can try your hand at roasting. This is a specific cherry on a specific plant that only grows in a region of the world called the Coffee Belt.
Coffee "beans" come from the coffee cherry, seen above.
The coffee cherry grows on the coffee plant (makes sense, right?), which is a type of small tree or shrub. Depending on the variety, the cherry will be red, orange or yellow when ready for harvest.
Each little coffee cherry contains two pits (aka beans) with the flat sides facing each other inside the fruit. Below are two freshly squeezed beans, fresh from the cherry.
Fun Fact: Sometimes the cherry will contain only ONE seed with a more rounded shape. This type of coffee bean is called a "peaberry" and occurs in roughly 5% of coffee beans harvested. These beans are typically more expensive than regular beans.
So what about the actual fruit?
Up until recently the fruit was primarily a waste product. Once removed from the seeds via a variety of processing methods, it was then thrown out.
Recently, a few companies have started making tea and other products with the fruit, which is referred to as "cascara." Despite these efforts, the fruit is still primarily a waste product and often composted for fertilizer.
What does the coffee cherry taste like?
You might be wondering what the coffee cherry tastes like fresh off the farm. Watch here for my official (and absurdely scientific) analysis:
Spoiler alert: "Tastes like plant".