Different & Delicious | 8 Peaberry Myths Explained

We have offered peaberry coffees for a few years now from a few different origins. They are not always easy to find, but when we are able to get our hands on one, it quickly turns into a new favorite both at the shop and for our customers. In this blog, I define peaberry just in case you're new to coffee and don't know what it is. Coffee grows in a cherry and usually has two seeds, but it's considered a peaberry when there's only one seed present. The bean size is smaller than regular beans and has a rounder shape. With this different bean come a lot of misconceptions and myths. Now let's debunk and clear up some of the misconceptions that are out there about peaberry coffee.  

1. Are Peaberries the Runts of the Harvest?  

There are so many theories about peaberry that it's hard to know what is fact and opinion. It's true that it's smaller than the traditional bean, and instead of 2 beans, there's just one, but is that enough to conclude that it's the runt? The word runt is used when referring to a litter of animals. When you have the runt of the litter, one is smaller and lower in weight. Usually, the runt needs more care because of its size and birth weight. The same term is sometimes used when describing peaberry because it's smaller and a little different. But, just because it's small doesn't mean it needs more care or failed to grow in some way. Maybe it was always meant to be peaberry. We don't know why the peaberry mutation happens, but I'm just thankful it does because it has been some of the best coffee I've had. So, I don't believe it's the runt. It may look a little different, but it doesn't require special care or processing. I think it's safe to conclude; it's just different. Different and delicious.  

2. Peaberry Only Comes from Tanzania.

It's believed that peaberry grew in popularity because the Japanese started to order peaberry in bulk, and it happened to come from Tanzania. Somehow, peaberry from Tanzania became the standard, so people thought that peaberry only came from there. But, in reality, peaberry can come from any region. I roasted and liked Brazilian peaberry for a long time until it became harder to get. Less than 15% of coffee processed is peaberry, so it can be rare and hard to get. I recently roasted Rwandan peaberry, which I also liked. One of the problems I have found with peaberry is that it's not always available. But when it is, that's what I grab first if I can, especially because it may not be available the next time I look for it.   

3. Peaberry is Special or Higher Quality. 

If you're experienced with tasting coffee, your palate is used to detecting bad, okay, good, and the best quality. When you're tasting something like our Panama Altieri Geisha Dry Fermentation Limited Edition Black Label, you know that you're tasting possibly the best of the best. I wouldn't put peaberry in that category, but I would put it in the category of having the potential to be a high-quality coffee that I can enjoy every morning. I say potential because you can get peaberry from any varietal, and the quality of the varietal is one determining factor for the quality of the coffee. You can't get a high-quality peaberry from a low-quality varietal. So I say it has potential because there could be many determining factors.  

4. Peaberry is Lower Quality Coffee.  

I mentioned the factors that could determine high quality, so the same principle applies here. In and of itself, it's not true that peaberry, in general, is a low-quality coffee. The quality may depend on what varietal is planted and producers' farming practices. You may be thinking that I'm just stating my opinion and that what I believe isn't fact either. You may be asking what separates my theory from all the other theories? Yes, it's true, it might be just my opinion, but it's informed with experience. As a home roaster, I've experienced many of the nuances of coffee from regions all over the world. I've roasted and tasted peaberry from Tanzania, Brazil, and now Rwanda, as well as traditional coffee from just about everywhere. Once I finish the Rwandan peaberry I have, my next coffee to roast is Mexican, which will be my first time for this one. I stuck to Brazilian peaberry for a while because I liked it so much. There are times when I find one I like and stick to it because it's just that good, so I'm not ready to move on right away. Peaberry is one that I have enjoyed roasting and drinking for many years, and our newest one from Rwanda is no exception. Maybe I liked it because it was an African coffee with an ideal darker roast than other African coffees, and I usually prefer darker roasts. I found it to be rich and sweet. It's hard for me to believe, based on my experience with peaberry, that it would be of a lower quality or somehow lack something that traditional coffee offers. The Rwandan peaberry has been one of my favorites so far.   

5. They Taste Sweeter.

The flavor of peaberry is influenced by many components of growing coffee, just like other varieties—the varietal, the soil, farming practices, climate, and so much more. Sweetness can vary in coffee, and it's not as simple as saying peaberry is sweeter. Now that I've said that, I will tell you that the Rwandan peaberry has a sweet quality to it that is delicious. But if I contrast Tanzanian and Brazilian peaberry, I wouldn't say that sweetness of those stands out. It isn't easy to pinpoint the exact variable that produced sweetness in Rwandan peaberry, but it's definitely there.  

The flavor of peaberry isn't more distinct than other coffee. There isn't anything that sets it apart when it comes to how it was grown. There are thoughts that the flavor is more bright or significantly different. I've roasted coffee for a long time and haven't found peaberry to be distinctly different from the planted origin and varietal. The flavor is mostly impacted by origin, climate, processing, roasting, and brewing. I generally brew coffee in a pour-over which has worked great with peaberry from different origins.  

6. They're Easier to Grow.

Growing peaberry is no different than any other coffee. It's simply a mutation within a crop of coffee being produced. The difficulty with peaberry is the sorting. Depending on the technical capabilities of a farm, peaberry may be sorted manually or sifted with machines for a faster process. One way or another, the peaberry is separated from the rest of the crop. It's usually only 5-15% of a crop, so it's worth the effort to separate but labor-intensive.  

7. Peaberries are a Varietal.

Peaberry grows from every varietal. Since there isn't a specific varietal that produces peaberry, it's safe to say definitely that the varietal isn't how you get peaberry. You can't decide to grow peaberry. It just happens. If you have a high-quality varietal, with tried and true farming practices, and peaberry beans grow, the result will be a high-quality peaberry coffee. 

8. It's More Difficult to Roast.

I decided to test out this myth myself. The beauty of home roasting is you can get what you want and roast it how you like it. Of course, you consider the suggested roast level, but ultimately you are your own quality-control. I generally stick to Latin American coffee, so it's been a long time since I roast an African, even less so, an African peaberry. So, I took some home, roasted it, let it rest, and I have to say, it wasn't hard to roast at all. I use a Behmor, which is a drum roaster. Maybe I'll try an air roaster and compare. The flavor was sweet, and the coffee was so smooth. I roasted to city plus, so it was a little darker, which is unusual for an African coffee bean. The only thing to note is that the crack came later than expected, and it wasn't very loud. Once I heard the first crack, I just used the color of the bean to know if it was ready. I had to stay close, but I didn't find it hard to roast if I watched it closely. I can see how you can quickly over roast and not notice if you're waiting for the second crack.  

I talked to our head roaster here at Sagebrush to get her perspective on how easy or hard it is to roast peaberry. Her perspective is that it's easy and hard. She found that regardless of the region, peaberry roasts consistently. It usually takes longer to hear the first crack, and chaff stays on the bean longer than other varieties of coffee. Roasting it light is difficult, and once it's ready, over roasting can happen very quickly. Maybe the roast pattern is that way because of the shape of the bean, which is consistent across regions. Maybe that's why people think peaberry is harder to roast since it may be a coffee that you don't roast regularly. As a home roaster, I found her insight very helpful. Peaberry isn't always available, so I hope to remember her tips if it just so happens that I can't get peaberry for a while.

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