Coffee Beans vs. Cocoa Beans (What’s the Difference?)

As an avid coffee drinker and chocoholic, I’ve often wondered what the difference is between the coffee bean and the cocoa bean. You might think that these two beans are closely related due to their similar flavor and nature, but as it turns out, that couldn’t be further from the truth! So, what are the differences between a coffee bean and a cocoa bean?

Coffee beans are the seeds/pits of red berries grown on the coffee plant, while a cocoa bean is grown on the cocoa plant in a seed pod. Coffee beans are processed, roasted, and ground to make coffee, and cocoa beans are fermented, roasted, and ground to make chocolate and chocolate drinks.

Now that we know the most obvious differences between these two beans, it makes you think about what other differences they might have. So, lets’ take a closer look at the differences between coffee beans and cocoa beans.

Coffee beans Vs. Cocoa Beans: What are the differences?

coffee trees

Coffee beans come from two main species of coffee tree: Canephora and Arabica, from which different varieties have developed over time. A coffee tree is a small shrub or tree which is evergreen; the tree will produce clusters of cream-white flowers with one fruit in each cluster, often referred to as a berry. The fruit will typically produce two seeds/ beans.

cocoa beans

Cocoa beans come from Theobroma Cocao, which has three main variants: Criollo, Trinitario, and Forastero. The cocoa tree fruit grows directly on its truck and is referred to as a pod. Inside the pod, you will find fragrant and sugary pulp surrounding the beans; you will typically see between 30-40 beans in a pod.

These days coffee is grown predominantly in what is called the Bean Belt. This area ranges from Ethiopia in Africa through South and Central America, Asia, and Oceana. Coffee likes to grow in high altitudes, with it being said that the best beans are grown in places that are over 1000 meters above sea level. 

Cocoa beans are also grown in the tropical Bean Belt but grow best in low-lying regions. The Cocao Tree will only grow in 15 deg. N or S of the Equator in a narrow band. 

Coffee beans are raison-like in appearance, whereas cocoa beans look like kidney beans. Cocoa beans are also larger than coffee beans. Cocoa beans also carry more fat, with an average fat content of around 50%, whereas the coffee beans’ fat content sits at 14%; coffee beans, on the other hand, have a higher carbohydrate or sugar content of 50% versus cocoa beans of 20%.

Before all the sugar and milk is added to cocoa, the taste is quite bitter with a mild earthy flavor, and if you eat the actual beans, they have a crunchy texture, just like coffee beans. Raw coffee beans are pretty acidic and are said to have a woody or grassy flavor. They are also quite hard and are therefore difficult to chew; roasted beans, on the other hand, will have varying tastes depending on how the bean was roasted.

Coffee Beans and Cocoa Beans: A little Bit of History

Just for interest’s sake, lets’ first look at the different histories of the two beans. The earliest record of coffee comes from oral records, which say that coffee was discovered in 800AD in Ethiopia; it took 200 years to move into Arabia, where it became a much sort after drink by the locals. Records show that it appeared in Europe around the 16th Century.

Cocoa beans, on the other hand, have a much longer history. Archaeologists have noted that the earliest recordings of cocoa can be dated back to around 1900BP found in Mexico. The Aztecs and Mayas revered this drink, and it said that it was used during rituals. 

Cortez is said to have brought it to Spain in the early 16th Century. Once in Europe, it became a favorite amongst the wealthy and only became available to ordinary people around the 18th Century.

Harvest to Roast: Coffee and Cocoa Beans – the In-Between

Coffee beans are processed in a few ways: dry, wet, anaerobic, honey, etc. These processes still require the removal of the beans from the pulp; then, the different techniques are used before the beans are placed in the sun to dry and remove moisture. After drying, they are milled, husked, cleaned, graded, and polished. 

After the cocoa bean pods have been harvested, the beans are removed and placed inside large wooden containers and covered with banana leaves while fermentation occurs. This process can take anywhere from 2-7 days or even up to 10 days.

After the fermentation and drying process, the coffee bean is said to have a moisture content of 8% – 12%, whereas the cocoa bean is said to have a moisture content of 6% – 8%. The average weight difference between the cocoa bean and the coffee bean is 10X, with the cocoa bean being the heavier of the two.

The Different Roasting Processes of Coffee and Cocoa Beans

The coffee bean is roasted at a much higher temperature than the cocoa bean, with temperatures exceeding 400 F. Coffee beans prefer a hot and fast roasting approach. High temperatures are required for the caramelization of sugars in the bean and pyrolysis for the darker roasts. Due to the high heat, the coffee beans’ flavor will develop quickly.

On the other hand, cocoa beans prefer a slow and low-temperature roast, with temperatures ranging from 250 F – 275 F. Normally, roasting lasts between 30 – 90 minutes. They also require the acetic acid, a result of the fermentation process, to be driven off.

The similarities between the two roasting processes are that they use a rotating drum roaster and require rapid cooling to stop the roasting process. They will both also lose quite a significant amount of weight in the roasting process. After this cooling, the coffee bean will shed its “chaff,” a paper-thin husk. In comparison, the cocoa bean will require further processing called “winnowing” to remove its outer shell.

The Final Word

Coffee beans and cocoa beans have some distinct differences. Starting with how they are grown, coffee in fruit coming in a pair of two beans, and cocoa in a pod coming in groups of 30 – 40 beans. Their appearance, taste, and size also differ. 

Then the process of drying and fermentation varies with cocoa needing days’ worth of fermentation and coffee having various methods of which this process can be done. Coffee then needs high temperatures and a quicker roasting process, and cocoa needs low temperatures and a longer roasting time.