Anna Vänskä

How Does a Coffee Cherry Taste Like?

Have you ever wondered how does a coffee cherry tastes like? Is the coffee cherry similar to roasted coffee at all? Wonder no more! I will tell you all about the flavor of coffee cherry and how it should be eaten.

Since the aromas in coffee develop only when roasting the beans, the answer is no: the cherries do not taste like roasted coffee. However, different varieties of coffee, as well as the cherries, have different flavors. After all coffees grown in different areas, climates and with different cultivation methods have huge difference flavor vice. 

coffee picker picking cherries

Green coffee, so the dried coffee beans, is only less than 20% of the weight of a ripe coffee cherry. Rest is skin, pulp, mucilage, and water. It’s sometimes said that the taste notes from the cherries can predict the aromas of roasted coffee. If everything goes by the book, sweeter and fruitier cherries will also result sugary notes in coffee.

coffee flower is white

Coffee cherries usually have two coffee beans inside. There is not much pulp in the cherry so you better pop them out rather than having a bite.

When picked, the ripeness of the coffee cherries plays a major role in the quality of the coffee. Also the amount of mucilage, the gluey substance around the coffee beans, and the amount of sugars and dry matter in the cherry have an effect on the cup quality. Maybe you’ve heard of brix measurement? That is the sugar content of an aqueous solution meaning the amount of sugar in your cup of coffee. Of course the amount of the sugars in the cherry affect the taste of the cherry itself too. 

I’ve met coffee producers who can tell the variety of the coffee by tasting the cherry. I guess the same goes for tasting the cherries as for cupping coffee. First they all taste quite alike but the more experience you have the more differences and nuances you will find. Even though my palette with the different aromas of cherries is not as advanced, I can definitely tell that the taste does vary. Actually, even the fragrance of the coffee flowers varies a lot – something I learnt with a Cup of Excellence awarded farmer from Finca Las Rosas in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. 

If you want to control how much the pulp of the cherry effects the taste of your cup of coffee, you have to choose the right processing method. If simplified, the more layers of coffee cherry you leave on the beans for drying, the more fruity and sweet flavors you’ll have. With a natural processing you’ll dry the whole cherry before removing the skin and pulp from the bean. With a honey process you’ll leave some of the pulp and the mucilage on the bean and the sugars will develop to a sweet and honey-like flavor.

yellow berries
Usually coffee cherries turn red when ripe but there are also orange, yellow and pink varieties. This Yellow Bourbon, is growing in a coffee farm in Peru.

If you haven’t had a chance to taste a fresh and ripe coffee cherry, you can get quite close to the flavor by having a sip of cascara tea which is made out of the dried coffee pulp. 

And now to the answer you are all thinking about. How does the coffee cherry taste like? I’ve found some tasting like mangos, some have jasmine aroma and some with more berrylike notes. Still most importantly they all are sweet as honey!

Costa Rica Coffee Yellow Cherries

Anna Vänskä
the writer is Paulig's Sourcing Manager who is just finishing a year of travels in coffee origins