Most people know that coffee beans get used to make coffee, and many know that cocoa beans are used to make chocolate. How related are these two types of “beans”?
Neither of them are beans like the kind that get eaten at almost every meal all around the world. Really, both of them are seeds from vastly different plants. Coffee beans are just the pits of berries that grow on coffee plants all over the world — famously in places like Ethiopia, Brazil, and Colombia. Cocoa beans are also seeds from cocoa plants, which grow in very similar places as coffee plants, and are particularly common in West Africa. Looking at coffee beans vs cocoa beans, we can see how two different plants used to create popular products moved through the world’s history.
Coffee beans are the source of the world’s most popular beverage: coffee. Today coffee is consumed in just about every place where people live. Coffee has a rich history that began in Africa and dates all the way back to 800 C.E.
Coffee plants look like shrubs or small trees, and they can grow to varying sizes from a handful of centimeters to over two meters. Every coffee plant flowers and produces berries. The seeds of those berries are called coffee beans.
Coffee plants are tough plants, and which means that they easily adapt to a wide variety of growing environments. The plants are native to southern Africa and tropical Asia. Over the course of coffee’s long and storied history, the plant has come to be found all over the world. Coffee now grows in south America, central America, all over Africa and Asia, and in the homes and yard’s of many professional and amateur gardeners across the world.
Cocoa beans are as different from coffee beans as coffee is from chocolate. These beans come from the fruit of cocoa trees. Cocoa trees (which are sometimes known as cacao trees) are actually in the evergreen family. They aren’t like the evergreen trees that get put up at Christmas, though. For one thing, cocoa trees are native to tropical Mesoamerica and don’t ever have to struggle through a harsh winter.
While the popularity of drinks made from cocoa beans, like chocolate liquor, can’t hold a candle to the worldwide staple that is coffee, the production of cocoa beans actually goes back further than the production of coffee. There have been archaeological records of humans drinking concoctions of cocoa beans as far back as 1,900 B.C.E. in regions of present-day Mexico.
Mayans and Aztecs were the first to consume cocoa beverages on a mass scale. Cocoa bean was growing into an industry well before the Spaniards came to South America and eventually brought cocoa back to Europe. There the beans were quickly in unbelievable demand, and these days hot chocolate, chocolate bars, and cocoa powder can be found in supermarkets across the globe.
Looking at coffee beans vs cocoa beans, it’s easy to see both have similar histories. But each has a history shaped by belonging to different a region and being used to create different products. Without either of them, life wouldn’t be quite as enjoyable.