Many people mistakenly believe that coffee and cocoa – used to make chocolate – are the same plant. Or that coffee and cocoa plants are related.
People believe this because the two plants are similar in many ways.
Coffee and cocoa are both widely known as beans (though they are actually seeds), both are used to create delicious food and drink, and they are grown in similar hot climates around the world, including countries in South America, Asia, and Africa.
So, given their similarities – and the fact they go well together – are coffee and cocoa beans related?
Let’s find out more about our two favorite beans.
Are Coffee and Cocoa Related?
Coffee and cocoa plants are not related. They come from different continents and different plants.
Cocoa was first found in South America, whereas coffee originated in Africa.
How Does Coffee Grow?
Coffee beans aren’t actually beans at all. They’re seeds that grow in coffee cherries on small evergreen trees.
Coffee trees are usually planted during the rainy season and grow best when out of direct sunlight.
It generally takes 3-4 years for the plant to grow coffee cherries. White flowers start blooming and fall off when the cherries mature.
When the cherries mature and turn ruby red, the green coffee beans inside the cherries can be harvested.
Once harvested, coffee beans are sold as a bean or turned into ground coffee.
How Does Cocoa Grow?
Cocoa beans come from a fruit tree called the Theobroma cacao tree, which translates to “food of the gods.”
Cocoa beans, or cocoa seeds, grow inside big pods and are surrounded by Baba, a fleshy white pulp.
The trees thrive in tropical climates and require a good amount of rain and shade. Cocoa trees can grow to 15-25 feet tall, and it takes the tree around five years to mature.
The cocoa pods are shaped like American footballs, and the tree produces about 30-40 pods yearly.
The pods are yellow, orange, green, or red and are usually harvested twice a year.
The beans are removed from the pods and are first dried and then go through a roasting process.
The cocoa powder and cocoa butter can then be extracted from the beans.
The flavor of the cocoa beans depends on where the bean was grown.
The Differences Between Coffee and Cocoa Beans
While coffee and cocoa beans are similar in many ways, they also have their differences.
Some significant differences include:
Number of Calories
Cocoa beans contain quite a few calories, while coffee beans have almost no calories at all.
Of course, both are often mixed with other ingredients – such as milk and sugar – which can significantly increase their calorie content.
Cocoa beans are much richer in antioxidants than coffee beans.
However, coffee has more antioxidant activity when in liquid form.
Cocoa beans are very bitter.
This may be surprising as chocolate is so sweet. However, all the sweetness you taste in chocolate comes from the sugar, not from the cocoa bean.
Coffee beans often have a more ‘earthy’ taste and are less bitter than cocoa beans. Coffee beans then get more bitter when roasted.
The darker the coffee, the more bitter it will taste.
The Similarities Between Coffee and Cocao Beans
Coffee and cocoa come from plants found in tropical regions. They start as beans (or, to be more precise, seeds), and both can be roasted to make a tasty treat!
Some other similarities include:
They’re both stimulants
The coffee bean and cocoa bean come from two very different plants, but they both act as stimulants due to the alkaloids they contain.
Cocoa contains theobromine, while coffee beans contain caffeine.
Theobromine is a milder stimulant compared to caffeine.
Effect on brain function
Both coffee and cocoa keep our brains sharp.
Cocoa contains dietary flavonoids that promote memory and learning and protect us from neuro-inflammation.
Coffee has also been shown to boost memory and learning.
The final processes of drying, fermenting and roasting coffee beans and cocoa beans are pretty similar.
Cocoa and coffee beans are both manually picked, and both take around five years to grow before they can be harvested.
After the beans have been processed, they are dried in the sun, reducing their moisture levels.
Both beans are then roasted to draw out their flavors.
The cocoa tree and the coffee plant have given us two of the world’s favorite flavors.
Coffee and Cocoa are delicious individually, but make a great pairing too. For example, a mocha is a type of coffee made from a shot of espresso combined with chocolate powder or syrup, plus milk or cream.
Coffee and cocoa share many similarities – including being grown in many of the same countries – but they are not the same, and they are not related.
I’m Joel, an espresso-loving coffee nerd. I got into coffee because I spent a lot of time in Milan as a kid and started liking coffee waaaay too young. I’m all about making sure espresso is treated with the same care as any other coffee – it’s not just a quick drink!