"Fans think they taste noticeably sweeter and more flavorful than standard-issue beans; naysayers insist they can't tell the difference."

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Peaberries. [Photographs: Erin Meister]

You can't bake a pie with these 'berries, but you can brew yourself a delicious cup of coffee. If you've heard the term before, perhaps you're wondering: what are peaberries, and what makes them so special?

A peaberry (also called caracol, or "snail" in Spanish) is a natural mutation of the coffee bean inside its cherry. Normally coffee beans grow two to a fruit, flat against each other like halves of a peanut, but a funny thing happens in about 5% of the world's coffee, and a bean is born an only child.

And, perhaps just like that only child, the peaberry beans get kind of spoiled by not having to share with anybody else. They tend to be smaller, denser, and, let's face it, just a little bit cuter than their flat cousins. Fans think they taste noticeably sweeter and more flavorful than standard-issue beans; naysayers insist they can't tell the difference.

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A peaberry next to a normal "flat" bean.

Because there's no way to tell from looking at the cherry itself whether there's a single- or double-header inside, these little guys need to be hand-sorted after picking and processing in order to be sold separately. As a result, in many cases the peaberries are sold for roasting right alongside their normal counterparts. Occasionally, growers will hand-select the tiny mutants for special sale, sometimes at a premium—not only because of their taste, but also because of the amount of labor involved, as well as their relative rarity.

Want to try some yourself? Stumptown Coffee Roasters has a lovely, tart, and juicy Kenyan peaberry lot from Gachami ($17.25 for a 12-ounce bag). Or, for a rare treat, check out Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea's beautiful and bright Sulawesi Taarco:the roaster is currently offering both its peaberry and regular lots for $20 a pound.

Are you a peaberry person?

About the author: Erin Meister trains baristas and inspires coffee-driven people for Counter Culture Coffee. She's a confident barista and an audacious eater, but she remains a Nervous Cook. Her latest project is Eat This Neighborhood, wherein she attempts to eat at least one thing at every single restaurant in the vicinity of her Chelsea apartment.

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