We get this question a lot. Can you eat coffee beans? The short answer is yes. If you can brew it, you can consume it. But you can brew tea from tea leaves, and you don’t see people walking around munching on dried mint leaves. Coffee beans are rather crunchy and bitter in their roasted form and won’t lend themselves well as an alternative to a freshly brewed cup of the stuff. But yes, you can eat them.
The better question is: what is the best way to eat them? To answer this question, we need to talk a bit about what coffee beans actually are.
The Coffee Plant
Coffee is a shrub-like plant that grows in warm regions across the world. After the plant flowers, it produces a fruit, known as the coffee fruit. This fruit is called a coffee cherry. Each type and species of coffee plant is different, but generally, the fruit is a deep reddish or purplish color, which is why it is referred to as a cherry.
Inside of the cherry, there are two large seeds. These seeds, if germinated, can grow another full-size coffee tree within a few years. However, if the seeds are separated from the fruit and dried, they are known as green coffee beans.
Interestingly, the seeds are only called “beans” because they resemble beans; in order for something to be classified as a bean, it must grow directly from the plant, rather than be nested inside of a fruit, like coffee is.
From Green to Brown
Green coffee is produced in many countries and toted all across the world to be sold as a commodity in the global coffee market. Once the coffee arrives at its destination country, it is purchased by coffee roasters who roast the bean until it goes from a light green to various shades of brown. At this point, the coffee beans are ready for brewing.
Can you eat green coffee?
Yes…but you likely won’t want to. Green coffee has a very dense structure and, until it’s roasted, tastes very grassy and earthy. It also has much higher acid content than roasted coffee, so it could induce worse heartburn than a typical cup of coffee. Not to mention, green coffee’s dense structure makes it incredibly hard to chew (or grind).
Aside: If you ever decide to roast at home, make sure your roast is “even”, meaning that all of the beans are roasted to the same level. If you have a few beans in the mix that aren’t quite roasted enough, you can clog and even break your burr grinder on those lightly-roasted, green coffee beans.
Can you eat roasted coffee?
Roasted coffee can be consumed, but it will be very strong and quite gritty. If you’ve ever made coffee with a coarse filter (such as French press), you likely ended up with some coffee grounds in the bottom of your cup. Most people don’t like the gritty texture of the coffee sediment, nor do they like the strong flavor of the coffee grounds. However, they are edible!
What is the caffeine content?
We all know that coffee gives you a boost. It’s been consumed for its energy-imbued properties for millennia. But what is the caffeine content in a single coffee bean? And does it change when you eat the beans whole instead of drinking the coffee brewed from them?
There are around 15mg of caffeine per gram of Arabica coffee. Some reports indicate that Robusta coffee has twice that amount. This means that to ingest the same amount of caffeine (95mg) as you do in a standard cup of coffee, you only need to eat a little over 6 grams of coffee beans. Most coffee beans weight close to 0.15 g, so you would need to eat around 40 coffee beans to consume the same amount of caffeine as a standard cup of coffee.
Are there any negative side effects?
The biggest watch-out in eating whole coffee beans is the caffeine content. If you snack away on them, you can easily consume much more caffeine than you would by drinking the beverage. Another thing to be aware of is that all of the caffeine in a coffee bean doesn’t make it into the final cup, whereas when you’re eating the bean whole, you’re consuming all of the caffeine from that bean.
Best Ways to Eat Them
Coffee beans by themselves do not taste good. They’re crunchy and gritty. That said, with the proper preparation, eating coffee beans or coffee grounds can actually be an enjoyable experience. Our two favorite ways to consume coffee beans/grounds, other than in brewed form, are through chocolate-covered coffee beans and Turkish coffee.
Chocolate-Covered Coffee Beans
Nowadays, you may have noticed a new product on your local chocolatier’s shelves: chocolate-covered coffee beans. Sometimes, they’re even called chocolate covered espresso beans—a misnomer since there espresso is a coffee brewing method, not a type of coffee bean—but we won’t get into that here!
Smothering your coffee beans in chocolate is a wonderful way to get both your caffeine and sugar fix. Using the same type of process as chocolate-covered raisins, known as panning, a chocolatier gradually coats freshly roasted coffee beans in a layer of creamy chocolate.
You might expect that chocolate-covered coffee beans would be rather bitter, but the opposite is true. The chocolate blends perfectly with the various flavors of the coffee roast profile. The most surprising aspect of chocolate-covered coffee beans is their exceptional crunch. Coffee beans grind with ease in a grinder, but when you munch on them whole, you’ll find they have a satisfying crunch.
Note: Interestingly, the main reason people associate coffee with a bitter flavor is that coffee is often served over-extracted, where the cup becomes vastly more bitter than if extraction is timed properly.
At Triple Bar Coffee, we think dark chocolate goes better with coffee beans, but it really depends on your personal chocolate preference.
If you’re a dark chocolate aficionado, we’d suggest Hoosier Hill Farm Gourmet Dark Chocolate covered Espresso Beans.
If you like milk chocolate, our favorite type of chocolate-covered coffee bean is Hoosier Hill Farm Gourmet Milk Chocolate covered Espresso Beans.
Finely Ground Turkish Coffee
Another less-obvious way to ingest coffee beans is through a coffee preparation known as Turkish coffee. This type of coffee is most common in Turkey and other areas of the Middle East but has spread across the world as the craft coffee movement has surged.
Turkish coffee is prepared in a cezve, but in the English speaking world, many refer to the device as an ibrik, which means “pitcher” in Turkish. The coffee is made by boiling a mixture of water, finely ground coffee, and sugar over a flame and then distributing the frothy liquid into very small cups, known in the coffee world as demitasse cups.
Turkish coffee is one of the most fascinating ways to brew coffee. Our favorite ibrik (a.k.a. cezve) is the engraved copper ibrik from CopperBull. It can brew up to 15 ounces of delicious Turkish coffee at a time. This amount can serve 5-6 demitasse cups. It also sports a beautifully engraved copper pot and rustic wooden handle with a mother of pearl inlay. Your guests will not be disappointed in your showmanship with this brewing apparatus.
If you’re looking for a serving set to go along with it, we recommend the Turkish coffee serving set from La Moda Home. It comes in both silver and gold. We think the silver looks best with the copper cezve, but it’s personal preference. This set is the perfect size to serve all of the Turkish coffee you brew in your cezve and to entertain your guests in true Turkish style.
The coffee in Turkish coffee is ground so finely that it can go into solution with the water and sugar. So by drinking Turkish coffee, you will ultimately be consuming coffee beans. You may find that some of the coffee sediment accumulates at the bottom of the cup, but most will be consumed with the liquid.