Coffee Beans vs Cocoa Beans. The History Behind the Perfect Bean

Coffee Beans vs Cocoa Beans. The History Behind the Perfect Bean

Is chocolate your guilty pleasure? Or is it coffee? Well, neither of them should be. They both offer many health benefits and have fascinating, centuries long histories. Let's see how they are actually different and how each is made.

Are Coffee Beans and Cocoa Beans Similar?

There's a wide spread myth that coffee and cocoa come from the same plants. That's not true though. Even though some might find the taste of the two similar, coffee and cocoa are two different plants. The biggest difference is that the coffee beans are used to make coffee and some deserts and cocoa beans are used to produce chocolate.

Another common misconception about coffee is that you use the bean. In fact, what is used to make coffee are the seeds of the fruit of the Coffea plants. The fruit itself looks a lot like a cherry but before ending up with the coffee you know, it's cleaned and roasted. This way the coffee gets its deep color and rich aroma.


Cocoa beans come from Cacao plants. The cacao plants look nothing like the coffee plants as there are no little fruits, but a massive cocoa pod that grows from the trunk of the tree. Just like coffee, cocoa is cleaned and roasted and then through some more complicated process you get your delicious chocolate.

The Beans (and the Pods)

The coffee and cocoa fruits are completely different from each other. The coffee that we use to brew a cup of joe is actually very similar to a cherry before it's processed. It's described as reminiscent of a sweet fruit, hibiscus and even tobacco.


The cocoa pods, on the other hand, are around 6.5-8 inches long and have a leathery rind that's around an inch thick. Inside the cocoa pod you can find a sweet pulp with a similar to  lemonade test and 30-50 large seeds.

Are Cocoa Pods Related to Coffee Beans?

No, the coffee and cacao plants are not related. Not tightly. The coffee and cocoa are harvested from different plants and actually come from different continents and need different conditions to grow. While cacao plants require a fertile soil with high humidity and temperatures, coffee plants need a subtropical or tropical climate and nearly as much humidity.

Coffee was actually discovered in modern day Ethiopia, while cacao in modern day Mexico. While they're grown in both South America and Africa today, that's not how it was initially. 

Coffee was first discovered and cultivated in Africa, and then through Somali traders first found its way to Yemen and then around the Middle East. A few centuries later, coffee was taken to South America by the French, and now Brazil is the biggest coffee producer in the world.

Cocoa went the opposite way. It was first grown in Mexico, then was taken down to modern day Ecuador. After the Spanish arrived in South America in 1492 it was taken to Europe and the Europeans wents nuts for cocoa. Some centuries later we have chocolate and we all know why it was such a craze. 




Even though you might find this surprising, the coffee is actually sweeter than the cocoa when not processed. This is because, as we mentioned, coffee is made from the fruit of the tree, which is rather sweet.

Tasting cocoa raw wouldn't be nearly as pleasant as eating chocolate. Even after the cleaning, roasting and processing of the cocoa, if chocolate was made purely out of it, it would be very bitter. The cocoa itself has just a hint of sweetness to it, but after fermenting, adding milk and a few more steps, it turns into a delicious chocolate bar.

Are They Bad for Your Health?

No, neither coffee, nor cocoa are bad for your health. Just the opposite. As they contain a lot of antioxidants they can actually be very good for you.

Nevertheless, there has been some contradictory information about the health benefits of cocoa and coffee. This is probably because if you drink larger amounts of coffee or eat too much chocolate, you're probably not going to feel that well. This is the case with nearly everything, though.

According to a research by Johns Hopkins Medicine, eating dark chocolate with 70% or more cocoa boosts your body's antioxidants. This leads to a lot of health benefits, including improved heart health, slimmer chances of diabetes and even a better physical and mental performance. 

Coffee is the same. If you drink it in moderate amounts (2-4 cups), you will have the same health benefits. Additionally, your body will be able to process sugars more efficiently and you will have a lower risk of Parkinson's disease.

To sum up, in moderate amounts, both cocoa and coffee can be very good for you. Coffee might even help you lose weight.

How Many Calories in Coffee and Cacao?

You will have guessed that the cacao beans have a higher amount of calories. 100 grams of cacao beans have around 580 calories, which is quite a bit. Fortunately, though, there are basically no types of dark chocolate that are 100% cocoa, as they will virtually be undrinkable. Additionally, this high nutritional value is for unprocessed cocoa. After fermenting and roasting it, the calorie level goes down.

Coffee, on the other hand, has significantly fewer calories. 100 grams of coffee only has around 284 calories, which is less than half. Again, this is before drying and roasting the bean, so after that processing, this number goes down.

Something else that you should consider is that coffee has a high content of caffeine. How caffeine works is, it basically boosts your body to work on a higher frequency. This includes your metabolism which lets you burn more calories. This way it can be slightly easier to lose weight by drinking coffee.

You should be careful when drinking coffee with milk or cream, though. While milk itself is not going to drastically increase the calories in your coffee, adding sugar or ice cream will.

What Is the History of Coffee?

There isn't a lot of information and no specific date of when coffee was discovered but it was probably around the 9th century. There are a few legends about how people have first started drinking coffee. The best one in our opinion is the one about Kaldi and his dancing goats.

Long story short, Kaldi was a goat herder in Ethiopia, who one day saw his goat eat some berries. Some time later they were running around full of energy, and even looked like they were dancing. He tried the coffee beans himself and felt the same effect. Then Kaldi took the coffee to the nearby monastery where the monks started using the coffee for religious ceremonies and it gradually spread around.

Another legend that seems more plausible is the one about the Moroccan Sheikh al-Shadhili. He was traveling through Ethiopia, when he noticed birds flying around a certain type of bean. What he eventually found were the coffee beans and that's how he discovered coffee.

Some time later, the Ethiopians started trading with the Somalis, and around the 1400s, coffee made its way to Yemen through the port of Mocha. The Arabs loved the coffee beans, and it even led to riots breaking out when coffee was banned.

In the 17th century coffee also came to Europe. Just like in the Middle East, people were going crazy over the bean. The first coffee shop opened in Italy in 1652.


In the start of the 18th century, a French Navy captain started the first coffee plantation in the Carribeans. Even though he didn't know it at the time, the Caribbean climate was perfect for growing coffee.

A few years later, a Brazilian colonel named Francisco de Melo took some coffee beans to Brazil. This is when it started growing as a coffee empire.

How Is Coffee Grown?

Coffee is generally grown on smaller farms (5-12 acres). The coffee beans are hand harvested which helps preserve the next harvest. Before the coffee producers get to harvesting 3-5 have to pass for the coffee plant to start producing fruits. 

This is where the climate steps in. For coffee to be producing fruits, it needs to be hot and preferably more mountainous. 

The coffee "cherries" are initially green but they gradually become red and glossy. This is how a coffee farmer knows it's harvesting time. As not all coffee plants ripe at the same time, farmers prefer picking them by hand. This way the 20-25% of coffee that isn't ready to be harvested yet is given more time.

How Is Coffee Processed?

The processing for coffee starts by drying the cherries. They're left out in the sun until the humidity drops to around 10-12%. Then, follows a process called wet milling, when the beans are washed thoroughly water and left to ferment. The end product is green coffee beans that are ready for roasting. 

Roasting is how the bitter coffee bean flavor is achieved. There are three types of roasted coffee beans: light, medium and dark.

Coffee that was lightly roasted preserves more of the fruity flavors. It also has a significantly higher level of caffeine. That's why if you want a stronger cup of coffee, you should go for a light roast.

A medium roast preserves some of the fruity flavor and has a little less caffeine than the light roast. To achieve this, the coffee beans are left in the roaster for longer.

You get a dark roast by leaving the coffee beans in the roaster for significantly longer. This lets them have a slightly burnt flavor and significantly less caffeine than a light roast.


What Is the History of Cocoa and Chocolate?


Cocoa has been cultivated by mankind for significantly longer than coffee. Research dates the first food based on cocoa to 5000 BC. It was first cultivated by Aztecs and Mayans. 

The word "chocolate" that can be found in most European languages comes from the indigineous language Nahuatl. The word chocolate is constructed by the words chocolatl and cacahuatl, the first meaning hot water. The second, cacahuatl is the name of a bitter drink the Aztecs used to share in religious ceremonies.  

When the Spanish arrived in America, they discovered the value of cocoa and the cocoa beans. They made it very similar to modern day chocolate by adding sugar and spices to sweeten the bitter cocoa. 

When they took the cocoa and chocolate to Europe they tried to keep the recipe a secret and managed to do it for nearly a century after its discovery. Eventually, though, they couldn't keep it secret anymore and chocolate spread around Europe, first appearing in France and England. Chocolate was first served by the upper classes and in special "chocolate houses". It quickly gained popularity and was known as both delicious and healthy.

How Is Cocoa Farmed?

There are four main stages that go into the farming process of cocoa beans. The cacao plant has to grow, be harvested, fermented and dried, and then shipped.

  1. Growing

The cacao trees need four or five years to start growing cocoa pods. Once that happens, they can continue producing cocoa for another 30 years or so. In the meantime, though, farmers have to protect the cacao tree from harsh sun, strong winds and floods.

A typical cacao pod contains 30-40 beans of cocoa. A typical tree has about 30 pods and around 400 dried beans are required to make a pound of cocoa. After doing the math, this means that a single cacao tree produces around 2-3 pounds of cocoa.

  1. Harvesting

Most countries offer two harvesting periods each year. Cocoa farmers use long-handled steel tools to reach the pods and cut them without damaging the tree bark. The pods are then collected in baskets, cut and the cocoa beans are extracted.

  1. Fermentation and Drying

After harvesting, comes the most important stage for the quality of the cocoa. During the fermentation and drying process, the cocoa can either become a delicious chocolate, or be completely ruined.

After the cocoa beans are removed from the pods, they are packed into boxes and put into piles. They are then covered with a mat or banana leaves for up to a week. The cocoa beans are surrounded by a layer of pulp, which is heated to help ferment the beans, leading to a better cocoa flavor.

  1. Shipping

After the cocoa beans are dried, they are packed into sacks and taken to the buying stacion. Then the buyer can either re-sell them or produce chocolate itself.

How Is the Bean Turned into Cocoa Powder and Chocolate?

Cocoa powder is made from the slabs of the roasted cocoa bean after cocoa butter is extracted. What's left is then pressed and dried. At the end the cocoa turns into a powder.

When the cocoa beans make their way to the chocolate factories they are ready to be refined into chocolate. The manufacturing process starts by additionally drying the cocoa beans. Then they are heated which makes them melt into chocolate liquor. The last step is adding sugar and milk to give you the chocolate you know and love.

Final Thoughts

Making coffee and cocoa is a simple but exhaustive process. They have both been enjoyed by mankind for ages, but cocoa is significantly more ancient. While chocolate is too complicated (and expensive) to make at home, you can easily be making your coffee.

The best way to do that is in a Moka pot. It offers a delicious cup of strong coffee that's easy to make. What's even better is that a Moka pot is one of the most widely spread methods of making coffee in Italy. And for a good reason. Get your high-quality Moka pot now!


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