These colorful fruits grow on coffee trees, and the precious coffee beans sit right at their center, beneath several layers of skin and pulp. In order to extract the beans for roasting, coffee growers must strip away these layers, which consist of the following:
- A silver skin or husk lying directly over the coffee bean
- Parchment lying over the silver skin
- Mucilage - a sweet, sticky substance
- Outer skin
When the coffee cherry is under-ripe the outer skin will be green, and as the cherry ripens, the skin will turn yellow, pink, or red. As the cherry ripens further, the skin turns purple, and finally, in an over-ripe cherry, the skin will be black and wrinkled, like a prune.
Ripe and even over-ripe cherries are desirable for a good coffee because they contain the most natural sugars, which are required for a full and balanced flavor. A ripe red coffee cherry might contain around 16% natural sugars, while an over-ripe purple cherry could contain as much as 22% sugar.
So, the next time you find yourself enjoying a nice cup of coffee, remember to be thankful not just for the famous coffee bean, but also for its mother, the colorful coffee cherry!