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[Photographs: Erin Meister]

It's easy to forget that coffee comes from a fruit, since hardly anybody outside of coffee-producing countries ever gets to see the stuff ripening in its natural state. This past week I got the opportunity to chomp on a few of these little beauties while visiting coffee farms in Nicaragua.

Want to know what they're like? Of course you do.

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Coffee grows on spindly, bush-like plants, and its cherry-like fruit ripens over the course of several weeks about nine months after the shrubs' jasminey blossoms bloom and fall. When ready for picking, most coffee cherries are anywhere from a lovely blood red to a kind of deep, romantic burgundy, becoming sweeter as they mature. (Some varieties are yellow when they reach their peak; under-ripe ones are an almost avocado green.)

The fruit's skin is taut and snaps like a bell pepper when you pierce it. Inside there's a sweet, sticky pulp layer that tastes something like watermelon, rosewater, and hibiscus all at once. (And taster beware, as I learned the hard way: there's not much meat behind that red skin, and chomping too hard could lead to some serious dental work.) The flavor is delicate and fleeting, and you'd have to mow through quite a few of these caffeinated suckers to fill up at snack time, so I recommend sticking to the brewed stuff in the morning.

Want to get as close as possible to tasting coffee fruit?

Try cascara: A tea-like infusion that can be made from the dried husks. Check out this lot from Finca Mauritania in El Salvador, available through London's Square Mile Coffee Roasters.

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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