• QA 206
    Are peaberries inferior? If not, why do certain buyers object to them?
    In green coffee, should one consider peaberries as inferior? Why do certain buyers reject them?
    Asked by:
    Processor - Burundi

    In terms of green coffee trade Peaberries are not inferior. But their appearance is different which is why some buyers place a limit on their presence.

    Peaberries are oblong or ovaloid (oval shaped) roundish beans that are the result of a single bean developing in a cherry as opposed to the usual two. It is generally accepted that the probable cause is genetic but, unfavourable conditions during the flowering period also play a role as this can promote the development of single bean cherries. From the agronomist's perspective peaberries are somewhat of an aberration but one that is not of serious concern as long as the proportion of such beans is not excessive. But there are instances where the presence of peaberries can be as high as ten percent. If so then that could be cause for concern.

    From the trade's perspective there is nothing objectionable whatsoever about peaberries. In fact the quality of some types of peaberries, particularly when of solid (hard) bean, can be excellent. Such peaberries are sought after by roasters in certain markets, as well as by some specialty roasters, who will pay premium prices for them.

    However, in normal green bean coffee, destined for sale as whole roasted beans, large numbers of peaberries will cause an irregular appearance because they do not roast evenly with the other, normal beans. This requires adaptation of the roasting technique which some  large scale roasters prefer to avoid. Furthermore, softish or less dense peaberries may open up during roasting which causes them to become quite obvious in whole bean roasted coffee. This is not appreciated because it detracts from the roast appearance and may be judged 'odd' by some consumers. Of course this is not an issue for R&G (roast and ground) coffee.

    These are some of the reasons why certain roasters stipulate the maximum proportion of peaberries that they will accept in coffee destined to be marketed as whole bean roasted  coffee. However, this is not because of objections to the quality of peaberries because this can be, and often is, excellent.

    Of course this raises a question…

    If one's harvest has an overly large proportion of peaberries, what to do with them? The first issue is of course whether the quality is such that the peaberries can be marketed separately, at good prices. If so, and if the quantity is commercially viable, then this would make sense. But if the quality is average or just ordinary then the issue is which sales result will be better: the peaberries are left in the main export grade or, they are taken out and sold separately.

    If the decision is to remove the peaberries then this is done by using the requisite peaberry or slotted screens in the sizing process (see topic 11.05.08 of the Guide). Because the screen ejects the peaberries from the rest the impression is that they are rejected (i.e. they are rejects) but, this is definitely not the case. Peaberries are simply another grade of exportable coffee that will find a market. Either as straight 'PB' or mixed with other grades to arrive at an exportable quantity of a decent quality small bean coffee, a grinder type for example that will be used for the roast and ground or R&G trade.

    Posted 29 October 2008

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