They're rounder, smaller, denser, and a little cuter than the average coffee bean. You can find them hanging with their bigger flatbean friends in most coffees—and sometimes, you can purchase a bag of coffee that is filled with these lesser-known beans. Casual coffee drinkers and coffee aficionados alike have encountered a peaberry. Often, peaberry coffees are known and marketed for their novelty, but the reason for that novelty may be unknown to some. Parallel to the release of our all-peaberry 2016 Holiday Blend, we’re spilling the beans about what makes peaberries so unique.
What is a peaberry?
Peaberries are a result of the most common mutation in bean morphology. The coffee tree produces berry-sized fruits in which the seeds, what we know as the “bean,” are developed. A typical fruit produces a pair of seeds that grow in opposition to one another with the flat sides facing inward (your average coffee bean shape). A peaberry is formed when only one seed develops in an individual fruit—this creates a rounder, smaller seed with no flat side. According to Fonté Master Roaster Steve Smith, a certified Q Grader who has roasted for 36 years, peaberries account for two to eight percent of seeds produced by a given coffee tree. In Tanzania, however, the peaberry count ranges from 10-12 percent; this is the only region that is specifically known for their more frequent peaberry crop.
How is the peaberry sorted?
Some growers sort out the peaberry, while others do not. It’s not uncommon to find peaberries in a “normal” coffee; but the growers that do sort the peaberries sell it in all-peaberry bags (like the three peaberry coffees we used to make our 2016 Holiday Blend), sometimes at a premium due to the extra labor involved. To sort, a screen is used to separate the bigger, normal beans from the smaller, oval-shapped peaberries, any leftover must be hand sorted.
How do they impact a cup of coffee?
“Peaberries roast differently in that they present a different surface to internal area ratio. A flat bean has less surface area per amount of internal area, and a peaberry has more exposed surfaced area as compared to internal area,” Smith said. "Peaberries are more uniform in size, and interact with heat in a more uniform way than a larger flat-bean size variation coffee."
But, that doesn’t mean there’s a major tasting difference. While some tasters prize the peaberry as having all the plant energy of two seeds packed into one, others dismiss this theory as botanically accurate. In Smith’s experience, he hasn’t seen a striking difference between a peaberry coffee and a “normal” coffee from the same crop. “I’ve done the tasting side by side blind with peaberries from the same crop and didn’t feel that they outshone the flat beans,” he said. "For me, peaberries are more of a novelty." What we can say with certainty is the aforementioned roasting benefits allow for a beautifully even roast.
The reason Fonté went with an all-peaberry blend for our 2016 Holiday Blend is simple—"We were offered some really fabulous peaberries and I thought, well, here's a little novelty to throw into our Holiday Blend," Smith said.
As with all Fonté blends, the 2016 Holiday Blend began as a concept. Smith first came across the base of the blend—the Brasilian Peaberry from the highly respected region of Carmo de Minas. This particular bean was a standout in blind cuppings, showing huge, creamy body and rich caramel and chocolate aromas. Quantities were limited, but according to Smith, “we had to have it—so we snagged the nine bags we could.”
Then came the highlight of the blend: the genuine Aged Sumatra Peaberry. The coffee aging process requires a specific climate and extra steps and time (three years). Quality aged Sumatras have grown more scarce over recent decades; their distinctive, highly prized mellowness and cedar toned aromas create a fierce competition for a very limited supply. “To find such a gem in peaberry form is unprecedented in our experience,” Smith said.
To complete the flavor concept of the 2016 Holiday Blend Smith had in mind, he found a beautiful Tanzania Peaberry that posses a light, clean crispness with an array of citric properties.
That’s it, folks.
The next time you enjoy Fonté’s 2016 Holiday Blend or are sifting through a bag of roasted coffee, search for your delicate peaberry. Enjoy the novelty and share the knowledge with other coffee geeks!