Difference Between Coffee Beans and Cocoa Beans

Coffee is the most popular drink in the world, with an estimated 400 billion cups being consumed every year.

It is grown on farms around the world and is then harvested, processed and dried using various methods which we will go into later. Coffee beans are then roasted at coffee roasteries, then sent out to be consumed. Cocoa is also grown on farms around the world and also goes through a process to get into our cupboards. But how do they differ? Let’s take a look at the difference between coffee beans and cocoa beans.

Difference Between Coffee Beans and Cocoa Beans – The Origins

Coffee Beans

No one truly knows the origin of coffee. However, the most famous story behind coffee’s history is that of Kaldi.

The story goes that Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder, was herding his goats in the highlands when he noticed they had started to behave strangely. They had started jumping around excitedly and bleating loudly. As he continued on his travels, he found the source of his goat’s odd behaviour was a small shrub which had bright red berries on it. Curious of what these berries were, Kaldi tried them himself. Just as his goats had, Kaldi began to feel these strange effects. He filled his pockets with these red berries and rushed home to show his wife. When he got home, his wife told him to take these magical berries to the local monastery to show the monks.


ripe cherries being picked


Unfortunately, Kaldi’s excitement was not copied by the monks; in fact, it was quite the opposite. One monk claimed the beans were “The Devils work” and tossed them into a fire. Without realising, the monk had just roasted the beans and an incredible aroma filled the monastery. They quickly removed the beans from the fire, crushed them and covered them in hot water to preserve them.

The monks then vowed that they would drink this beverage each day to aid with their religious practices.

Cocoa Beans

The origin of cocoa is slightly more evident than that of coffee. Research from archaeologists has found that the ancient Maya tribe first cultivated the cocoa tree around 1000 BC. This occurred during a time known as the Pre-Classic Period of Mesoamerican history, which spanned from 2000 BC to 250 AD. The archaeologists found residue in a ceramic pot which was recovered from a Mayan site in the North-East of Guatemala. Archaeologists believe this is the earliest consumption of cocoa and confirms it was used by the Maya tribe.


coffee farm on a mountain side


It was the Maya tribe who gave cocoa its name. Cocoa is Latin for “Food of the Gods”. The Maya tribe worshipped the cocoa tree, and it had many purposes. A ritual beverage was made from ground cocoa beans, vanilla beans and other spices. This beverage was consumed during ceremonies and times of celebration. It was also used as a currency between the Mayan people and as a way of trading with other countries.

Difference Between Coffee Beans and Cocoa Beans – Harvesting Processes


Coffee beans as we know them are actually the seeds of the coffee cherry. These seeds grow on coffee plants inside the fruit of the plant; the cherry. When ripe, the cherry will usually turn a bright and deep red, dependant on the varietal. The fruit can then be picked in a number of ways, which vary from farm to farm.


ripe coffee cherries


To save money, some farms will strip pick their plants. This is where all the fruit is removed from the plant whether it’s ripe or not. Although this method does save money, it runs the risk of beans that aren’t ripe, overripe or defected being included and sent to be processed. This method of harvesting coffee along with other farming techniques, generally produces commodity-grade coffee, which is the sort of coffee you will find in supermarkets.

Speciality coffee, like the coffee we source and roast here at Two Chimps HQ, is usually hand-picked to make sure only the ripest of coffee cherries are chosen. Those that are under-ripe will be left on the plant for the next pass.


picking ripe coffee cherries


After harvesting, the cherries are sent to be processed. There are a number of ways that coffee is processed, which varies from farm to farm. Coffee can be processed using the washed, honey or natural process.

The washed process removes the flesh that surrounds the bean using water. Firstly, the cherries are put through a depulper which removes the majority of the fruit’s flesh. Next, they are moved to a fermentation tank where the enzymes in the coffee bean help to remove any mucilage which is left.


green coffee lying out on raised beds at a coffee farm


The honey process is a variation of the natural process. Some of the flesh is removed from the bean using a depulper, but rather than being put through a fermentation tank to remove the remaining flesh; the beans are sent to be dried. This can produce a much sweeter cup.

The natural process is seen as the traditional way of processing coffee. After harvesting, the cherries are sent to be dried with all the flesh still attached. Once dried, the flesh is then mechanically removed.


Depending on the processing method used, the beans are then sent to be dried. There are a few methods for drying coffee too.

Often, processed coffee beans are dried on brick patios or raised beds and are turned regularly to ensure even drying.


aerial view of a coffee farm


When an area doesn’t receive enough sunshine or the climate isn’t ideal for drying naturally, mechanical dryers are used. Sun-dried coffee is generally seen to be of better quality compared to mechanically dried coffees. The temperature in a mechanical dryer has to be monitored very carefully because if the beans are exposed to very high temperatures, it can cause the flavours to be ruined and in some cases, the beans can crystalise and smash.

The final method of drying coffee is solar drying. This method of drying coffee is much more environmentally and economically friendly than a mechanical dryer as it doesn’t use any fossil fuels or electricity.

Take a look at our blog for more about the different ways of processing and drying coffee.


an coffee farm in ethiopia


Figuring out which cocoa pods are ripe and which aren’t quite ready can be a tough challenge. Under-ripe cocoa won’t have developed its flavours and aromas yet, whereas overripe cocoa will start to germinate. Unfortunately, cocoa pods don’t often ripen at the same time, even when they are on the same tree. It can be even more of a challenge for cocoa farmers who have multiple varieties of cocoa. When they are ripe, some are yellow, some are more green in colour and others can be a dark red.


cocoa beans


When a farmers crop is ready to harvest, they will hand-pick the pods. Because the cocoa pods ripen at different times, strip picking or other mechanised methods are not possible. Instead, a machete is used to remove the pods from the tree. Farmers need to be careful when they remove the cocoa pods as the next crop will begin to flower where this year’s harvest was cultivated from. If the farmer cuts into the tree, it will create a wound, and the tree won’t bloom in that area next year.

Pod & Bean Separation

After the pickers have filled their baskets with cocoa pods, they will pair up, place a wooden box between them and begin cutting the pods open. The pickers will inspect the beans, check the amount of pulp on the beans and also their ripeness before placing the beans in the box. Overripe beans will go in a separate box and will be kept and sold separately to the higher quality cocoa.


an open cocoa bean


Cocoa processing starts with fermentation. The beans are fermented in wooden boxes on the same day they are harvested. Farms use an array of different sized boxes, depending on the yield of the cocoa that day. Further checks are completed as the beans are separated into their appropriate boxes. The workers will also be looking for any signs of witches’ broom, which is a fungal disease that causes crops to deform.

It’s crucial that these fermentation boxes are filled before the warmest part of the day. This is because as the temperature increases, the sugars will start to concentrate.


falling cocao beans


The next day, the cocoa beans will be turned and moved from one box to another. Beans that were at the end will go at the front, and the beans that were in the front will go in the middle and so on. Once the beans have been turned, the boxes will be covered. Doing this prevents the beans from oxidising. They will be left covered for 48 hours, before the process starts again. This will go on for about six days, dependant on climate. As the beans ferment, the pulp drips from the cocoa. As a result of this, about 33% of the weight of the wet cocoa is lost after fermenting.


After fermentation, cocoa beans are dried in wooden boxes, on drying beds, pallets or patios. During the drying process, the moisture level is brought down from 60% to around 7%. Similar to coffee beans, cocoa beans are turned to ensure even drying.


sorting cocoa beans


In cocoa-growing countries that receive a lot of rainfall, additional equipment is used to ensure the beans still dry. For instance, in some countries, greenhouses with solar heaters are used. These greenhouses have windows to allow continuous airflow too.


After the beans have dried, they are ready to be aged. This process can last anywhere from 30 days to a year. The length of time cocoa beans age for depends on the variety used. During ageing, the beans are stored in sacks in storage houses.


sack of cocoa beans


The beans still need to be carefully watched however, as they can gain moisture again. Gaining extra moisture at this point can allow mould to form on the beans.

Difference Between Coffee Beans and Cocoa Beans – Roasting


When we receive our fresh green beans, we begin to plan out the roast. We will start by finding the density and moisture levels within the beans. By finding the density and moisture content of the bean, we can begin to predict the amount of heat the beans can take in.


green coffee sitting in a moisture analyzer


Brewing methods are also discussed during the planning of roasting. For example, if we were looking to roast for a filter, we will often look to keep the acidity and aim for an earlier first crack. On the other hand, if we were to roast for an espresso, we would look to delay first crack slightly and plan for a longer development time. This additional time allows the sugars to caramelise for a bit longer. When roasting, all this information and more is recorded along with a prediction of the first crack.

Sensory Skills

We hand roast our coffee using sensory skills to keep track of the roast. Grass, Hay and Bread are the three sensory milestones we look for during the first part of the roast. Each determines a particular milestone in the roast.

As the roast continues, we monitor the ’rate of rise’ to make sure the beans the desired amount of time in each sensory milestone.


coffee being sampled from a roaster


Once all three sensory milestones have passed, next comes first crack. This audible event signifies that the beans are entering an exothermic reaction; where they cannot take in any more energy. At this point, the beans being to omit energy and let out a pop. After first crack, the beans enter the development stage, which is the time between the first crack and the end of the roast. During this stage, we will pull a sample every 30 seconds.

We then start the process again, using the information recorded from the first roast and the tastes found on the cupping table. Once we are happy with the roast, this becomes our roast log to follow for all other batches of the same coffee.


coffee in a cooling bin


We always roast by hand using our sensory milestones to ensure that each batch of coffee is consistent. One huge factor that can affect a roast is a change in air pressure that is drawn into the roaster from outside. If it has been warmer or cooler outside than the week before for instance, the air pressure will be different. This means we will need to adjust the roast accordingly to ensure it doesn’t run too fast or too slow.


Before you begin roasting cocoa beans, you need to examine the beans and understand them a bit more. Knowing where the beans came from, their moisture content and the size of the beans are all things which help to give some structure to roasting cocoa beans.

Cocoa beans come in various sizes, and when roasting them, it’s important to only roast beans that are the same size. Doing this means there will be an even heat transfer through the structure of each bean.


a pile of cocoa beans


The moisture and density levels in cocoa beans need to be monitored and recorded just like speciality coffee beans. Generally, cocoa beans should have a moisture content of around 6-7%. Cocoa beans are typically less dense than coffee beans due to their fat content. Cocoa roasters are able to roast double the amount of cocoa compared to coffee beans. For example, if a roaster had a 10kg capacity for coffee, it would have around a 20kg capacity for cocoa.

Before choosing a roast profile for cocoa beans, roasters need to understand the beans’ sensory qualities. Some cocoa roasters will taste their beans raw which will allow them to recognise the flavours and therefore work to enhance them in the roast.


The charge temperature (start temperature in coffee) is the temperature the cocoa roast is started at. Delicate flavours will result by using a lower charge temperature, whereas stronger flavours require a higher charge temperature.


The cocoa industry is still creating its own roasting standards; meaning every cocoa roaster is still experimenting to see what works best for them. As a general rule of thumb, If a cocoa roaster was looking to enhance more fruity and floral notes, the heat is increased ever so slightly to anywhere between 110-116 degrees Celsius. If they are looking for a fuller body with more caramel notes, the temperature is taken up to between 130 and 135 degrees Celsius. These changes in temperature do depend however on the physical attributes of the beans.


coffee roasting by hand


Unlike coffee beans, the colour of cocoa beans doesn’t really change when exposed to heat. What does change is the aroma. Initially, there are vinegar and other unpleasant notes, but these soon develop into more pleasant aromas as the cocoa roasts.

Cocoa roasters also listen out for a crack. This audible signal signifies the roast is almost ready.

As mentioned, cocoa roasting is a growing industry. Unlike coffee, there is limited information available about roasting cocoa. This does allow cocoa roasters to experiment to find the best methods for them however.

So as you can see, there are a lot of differences between cocoa and coffee.


espresso pouring from an espresso machine


As well as roasting coffee, we have hot chocolate powder available too. The cocoa used in this hot chocolate comes from Madagascar, and it is produced locally. Fancy a cup? Grab a bag here.

If coffee is more your thing, head over to our shop for a full list of coffee and grab a bag today, all with FREE 1st class post.

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