Have you ever drunk coffee made with peaberries? The myth is that peaberries are superior in the cup when compared to normal beans from the same batch, but is this really true? First of all, what exactly is a peaberry?
Peaberries are relatively rare. They are the result of a mutation that occurs in 5 to 10% of cases. Normally, a coffee cherry gives rise to 2 beans that grow glued together. This is why they are round on one side and flattened on the other. Occasionally, a single berry grows right in the center of the cherry. This gives the cherry a round shape reminiscent of a pea. Denser than "normal" seeds, peaberries, or caracollio in Spanish, are appreciated for their pronounced flavor, complexity, depth and lively acidity.
In mass-market coffee (grocery stores, large chains, etc.), peaberries are more often than not mixed with the rest of the beans. In the world of specialty coffee, they tend to be separated in order to extract their full potential. Indeed, because of their greater density and rounder shape, they don't roast in exactly the same way as their congeners.
Is it superior?
Unfortunately, little research has been done on the subject to date. It is believed that because the grain grows on its own and doesn't have to share nutrients with another grain, it gains density, mimicking a higher altitude, resulting in increased acidity and greater complexity. However, the phenomenon is poorly documented and it's difficult to state beyond doubt. To make matters a little more complicated, we must also bear in mind that peaberries are subject to the same hazards as other grains. Variety, drying method, altitude - everything that influences the taste and quality of a grain has the same effect on a peaberry. Where there is a difference is at the roasting stage. Their round shape and uniform size help them to roll better in the roaster, improving heat transfer to the center of the bean.
Is that enough to say they're better? We honestly don't know. What we do know is that if our peaberries are good, it's thanks to the hard work and invaluable expertise of the producers we buy from. Think of them with your next sip of coffee. It's more than their work you're drinking, it's their lives.