Are Coffee Beans Actual Beans?

Here’s a fun little fact for coffee lovers: Coffee beans aren’t actually beans.

 If you’re shocked by this statement, you’re not alone. In fact, most people would read this and think, “That’s a lie,” and move on with their lives. 

But it is the truth; coffee beans aren’t beans at all. If you are confused by this random trivia and want to scream “False!” read on. 

What Are Coffee Beans? 

There are two types of people: those who can’t function without their morning cup of coffee and those who occasionally enjoy a hot cappuccino or an iced latte

Irrespective of which group you belong to, chances are that you’ve never questioned whether coffee beans were real beans. Why would you when they’re literally called beans?  

Hence, being told otherwise can sound almost controversial. However, the coffee beans from which your morning coffee comes don’t fall under the definition of the word “beans.” 

Definition of Beans

A bean is defined as a nutritious edible seed that grows in long pods. These edible seeds are usually kidney-shaped and come from a wide variety of plants that belong to the legume family. 

The pods of such plants are also sometimes consumed as a vegetable, especially when the bean inside is still immature. 

Red beans, kidney beans, fava beans, chickpeas, and green beans are some of the common beans that are consumed regularly. More exotic examples include Anasazi beans, black-eyed peas, and adzuki.

Beans can be a great addition to your diet if you’re trying to eat healthy. Most types of beans are nutrient-dense, delicious, and make you feel fuller for longer. 

How Are Coffee Beans Different from Real Beans?

Now that you have a better idea of what real beans are, we can take a look at how coffee beans are different. 

As you already know, beans grow inside a pod and belong to the legumes family. However, coffee beans are the seed of a small fruit, aptly named “coffee cherries.” 

Not only do coffee beans not grow inside pods, but the coffee tree isn’t classified as a legume plant. However, there are certain other factors that separate the two. 

Coffee cherry is a small, bright red fruit that grows on coffee trees. These coffee cherries almost entirely consist of skin and seeds, which doesn’t make them great for snacking. 

Hence, most people didn’t pay too much attention to the tough berries that naturally grew on the plateaus of Ethiopia. That is until a goat herder brought attention to it. 

How Were Coffee Beans Discovered – The Ethiopian Legend

Although coffee trees are cultivated around the world nowadays, their heritage can be traced back at least a couple of centuries to the ancient forests on the Ethiopian plateau. 

It is believed that most people didn’t care about the still-to-be-named coffee trees. This was because, despite their abundant growth, the thick structure of the fruit made it hard to consume. 

According to the Ethiopian Legend, it wasn’t until a goat herder named Kaldi discovered it around the 9th century that people started paying attention to the potential of these fruits. 

As the legend goes, Kaldi noticed that after eating the fruits from a particular tree, his goats seemed to become too active. In fact, they wouldn’t even sleep at night after eating these small fruits. 

Kaldi became curious, so he went to the local monastery and reported his discovery to the abbot. The abbot took notice and collected a few of the fruits for research. 

Since the fruit was so small and hard, the abbot crushed them and submerged the fruit in water. He noticed that after consuming this concoction, he felt more alert and energetic. 

He was able to sit through the evening prayers without feeling tired or sluggish. Hence, he shared this with other people at the monastery, who also started benefiting from the unique beverage. 

Soon, the knowledge about the berries that make you alert and energized began spreading past the Ethiopian plateaus and reached the Arabian region. 

It is hard to tell how authentic the Ethiopian legend is and how much of it has been fabricated and evolved over the years.

However, there is no doubt that someone in that region discovered the coffee tree that so many people wouldn’t be able to function without nowadays. 

So Coffee Beans are Actually Seeds

As coffee became popular worldwide, most people started referring to them as coffee beans. Besides, the internet wasn’t common back then, so no one could just Google, “Are coffee beans actual beans?” 

Since they were already commonly referred to as coffee beans, no one questions. However, now we know that coffee beans are seeds. 

Now you may ask, “Aren’t beans and seeds the same thing? Why do we have to get so technical about it? But the truth is that seeds and beans aren’t the same things. 

While beans are a specific type of seeds, not all are beans. 

What is Seed? 

In simple terms, a seed is an organic structure of a plant that is capable of growing into another plant. If you live in the right climatic conditions, you can take a coffee bean and grow your own coffee tree. 

But before you run to your pantry to test it, it is important to use raw coffee beans. The roasted kind in your pantry wouldn’t grow into a plant. 

Seeds come in a number of different shapes, sizes, and textures. Hence, there is a slight confusion around the subject, especially when comparing them with other components of the plant. 

The reason coffee beans cannot be classified as beans is that every bean should grow into a plant that belongs to the legumes family. And as you already know, the coffee tree doesn’t belong to the family. 

Why Is It Referred to Coffee Bean If It Is Actually a Seed? 

The simple answer to this is that coffee beans look like beans. Hence, nobody stopped to question whether they were actual beans or not. 

It is also important to note that coffee became widespread in a very short period of time. And as discussed earlier, the internet wasn’t exactly a thing back then. 

Hence, there was a severe lack of communication. There was no way Kaldi or the monks at the monastery could tell the people of Europe that coffee beans are actually seeds. 

There is also a huge possibility that things got lost in translation. An interesting fact to consider is that coffee beans are known as “yebuna firēwochi” in Amharic, which literally translates to “fruits of coffee.” 

On the other hand, coffee beans are known as “hubub albun” in Arabic, which translates to “coffee pills.” 

As you can see, as coffee traveled to new regions, the word for “coffee beans” kept changing and evolving while still maintaining some similarities. 

Taking all of this into account, it can be concluded that coffee beans are referred to as beans solely because they resemble the kidney-shaped look of most beans. 

Since there was still a language barrier despite the thriving trade, people would have just given it a suitable name without thinking about it too much. 

Over the years and centuries, the term “coffee beans” has become fixed in everyone’s minds. There was really no need to question it. 

If only people back then knew that their random translation would lead to one of the biggest misconceptions of the 21st century! 


By the end of the day, it is safe to say that it doesn’t really matter whether they are beans or seeds. Either way, you still enjoy your morning cup of coffee, so why bother? 

However, this is an interesting fact that you can share with people. 

So next time you’re running out of things to talk about on a first date or a boring family dinner, bring up the fact that coffee beans aren’t beans. It is sure to keep everyone engaged for some time!

While you’re at it, don’t forget to enjoy your coffee.

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