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Coffee berries are petite, approximately the size of a grape and have a round to ovate shape. Coffee berries grow in clusters along the branches of the coffee tree and turn from bright green when immature to deep red or sometimes yellow when they are ready to be picked. The skin of the fruit is smooth, shiny, and taught offering an extremely bitter flavor. The flesh within the berry, however, is very sweet, tender, and juicy. Underneath the flesh is a protective layer of slimy, honey-sweet flesh known as the parenchyma. At the very center of the fruit are two blue-green seeds wrapped in a thin skin or parchment and underneath that, an exceptionally thin film known as silver-skin. The seeds are the fresh form of the beans that are used to produce one of the world’s most beloved beverages, coffee.
Coffee berries are typically hand harvested once a year in the spring and summer months.
Also known as Coffee cherries, Coffee berries are botanically a part of the genus Coffea and a member of the Rubiaceae family. Coffee berries are used primarily for their seeds aka coffee beans within the fruit that are used to make the popular beverage of the same name. For a long time the Coffee berry was considered too perishable and difficult to harvest, clean, and ship in its fresh form. In recent years as the export market has changed and interest in “super-fruits” has grown, the antioxidant packed flesh of the coffee berry has begun to gather attention. This once discarded portion of the fruit can now be found as an ingredient in nutritional supplements, functional beverages, and beauty products.
The fleshy fruit of the coffee berry is known for its incredible antioxidant content and is touted as a superfruit. Antioxidant rich foods are sought after for their ability to protect the cells of the human body from the damage of free radicals. The leaves, flesh, and seeds of the Coffee berry all offer varying levels of the stimulant caffeine as well.
The Coffee berry produces a thin layer of flesh and when juiced it produces a small amount of liquid that can be combined with other fruit juices or water and consumed as a nutritional beverage. The leaves of the Coffee berry plant can be steeped to make a slightly caffeinated tea. The seeds of the Coffee berry are the most commonly used part of the fruit and are roasted and used to make coffee. Roasted seeds can also be ground and used to add a nutty coffee flavor to ice cream or to amplify the flavor of chocolate baked goods. Coffee berries are highly perishable and should be used within a few days of harvesting.
In the Coffee berry’s native home of Ethiopia, the flesh of the berries were traditionally used to make juice and the leaves make the original form of the stimulating beverage, coffee. In coffee producing regions, the leaves and dried flesh or husks of Coffee berries are used to make a tea which like the coffee made from beans offers some caffeine as well. The first coffeehouses were in Istanbul, and it is here where the practice of gathering at coffeehouses for leisure reading, conversation, and drinking coffee quickly become an important part of the social culture.
The Coffee berry tree dates back to 11th century Ethiopia where originally it was the leaves of the coffee plant that were used to make a stimulating beverage. From there the berry spread first through the Arabian Peninsula and then in 1555 to Istanbul. It is here in Istanbul where the coffee bean was first roasted, ground, and cooked with water to make the world renowned beverage still consumed today. Coffee consumption and coffeehouses quickly became part of the culture of Istanbul and through merchants and travelers knowledge of this culture and beverage would spread and be replicated throughout the world.