What’s The Difference Between Coffee Beans Vs Cocoa Beans

Coffee beans vs cocoa beans, two essential ingredients that give us some of the world’s most popular drink and confections, might seem similar at first glance. 

hand holding coffee beans

However, there are main differences between these two types of beans, from their appearance, roasting process, health benefits, caffeine content, and processing techniques to the flavors and nutrients they contain. 

We’ve got the scoop on the distinctions between coffee beans and cacao beans, showing how these seeds contribute uniquely to the culinary world.

Types of Coffee Beans

First, let’s consider the basic appearance and origin of the two different plants. 

While both coffee seeds and cocoa pods come from the seeds of fruit-bearing plants, coffee beans derive from the Coffea canephora plant and are often small and dark in color.

While cocoa beans originate from the theobroma cacao tree and have a larger, lighter brown appearance. 

Moreover, the processing method for each bean varies, impacting their respective flavors and textures. 

Coffee beans, from coffee plants, typically require longer roasting periods to create a range of flavors.

While cocoa beans, from cocoa plants, undergo shorter roasting, resulting in a darker color and more potent taste for the end product.

Another of the many key differences lies within the fat, caloric content, and amount of caffeine for these beans. 

Coffee beans have a much caffeine content that is higher and far fewer calories compared to cocoa beans, which are higher in fat and contain more calories. 

Despite their disparities, both beans from coffee trees as well as a cocoa tree possess a unique flavor profile and taste of coffee that enriches our food experiences as well as have distinct cultural and historical significance. 

By examining these differences, coffee makers can take a closer look and better appreciate the uniqueness of these remarkable beans and the final product they inspire.

Coffee Beans Vs Cocoa Beans: Origins and Plants

cocoa beans with chocolate

History and Regions

Coffee and cocoa plants have their origins in various regions and different continents across the world, with both plants having a rich history that dates back centuries. 

Coffee plants, especially Coffea arabica coffee beans, are native to tropical climates of Central America, South America, Africa, and parts of Asia. 

Meanwhile, the cacao plant is primarily in Central and South America, West Africa, and Southeast Asia.

These plants are typically in high altitudes or higher altitudes so that they can grow better.

Some noteworthy regions for coffee production include:

  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • Ethiopia
  • Vietnam

For cocoa production, key regions are:

  • Ivory Coast
  • Ghana
  • Indonesia
  • Nigeria

Coffea Plant and Coffee Cherries

The Coffea plant is an evergreen shrub or small tree that belongs to the Rubiaceae family. 

There are over 120 species of Coffea plants, with Coffea arabica (Arabica coffee) and Coffea canephora (Robusta coffee) being the most commercially cultivated. 

These plants typically require a hot, humid climate and well-draining soil with a low moisture content to thrive, making them well-suited for their native tropical environments.

The coffee fruit that comes from the Coffea plant is a coffee cherry, which takes about 9 months to mature. 

The coffee cherries are typically red or purple in color, and each cherry contains two seeds, which are the actual coffee beans. 

Once you harvest, these cherries go through a process, often either via wet or drying process methods, to separate the coffee beans from the pulp and skin. Which you then dry and get ready for roasting.

Green coffee beans mean that they have not been processed or roasted enough.

Depending on the roast level or type of roast, the milligrams of caffeine, or mg of caffeine, as well as taste of the coffee will differ.

Coffee beans can be medium roast, dark roast, and light roast or lighter roasts.

Cacao Plant and Cocoa Pods

cocoa beans on the ground

The Theobroma cacao, or cacao plant, is a small, evergreen tree that belongs to the Malvaceae family, native to the tropical regions of Central and South America. 

The cacao tree produces large pods, elongated fruit called cacao pods. These pods can grow up to 12 inches in length and, when mature, possess a variety of colors ranging from yellow to deep red.

Inside these pods are rows of cocoa beans, covered by a white, sweet pulp. 

Once harvested, the beans and pulp are typically scooped out and undergo fermentation and drying processes.

Which contribute to the development of the chocolate flavors we know and love. 

After fermentation and drying, the beans are then roasted and ground to create the unique foundation for various types of chocolate products.

For example, popular chocolate products include:

  • Cocoa butter
  • Cocoa powder
  • Cacao nibs
  • Cacao butter
  • Cacao powder
  • Cacao solids
  • Dark chocolate bar
  • Hot chocolate
  • Milk chocolate
  • Homemade chocolate
  • White chocolate

Processing and Harvesting

coffee beans spilled out from coffee cup

Coffee Beans Processing

Coffee beans are seeds inside the cherries of the coffee plant. 

The processing of coffee beans begins with the harvest, typically carried out either by hand-picking or using machines

After harvest, coffee cherries undergo a depulping process to remove the outer layer, revealing the beans inside.

There are two primary methods for processing coffee beans:

Wet processing

This method involves soaking the beans in water to soften the outer layer. Then, they are passed through a depulping machine that separates the beans from their outer layer.

The beans are then fermented in water for 24 to 72 hours, depending on the desired flavor. This fermentation process breaks down the remaining layer of sugars and mucilage.

Finally, the beans are rinsed and spread out in the sun or a drying machine to dry completely.

Dry processing

With this method, coffee cherries are spread out in the sun immediately after harvest. They are left to dry for several weeks. With farmers regularly turning them over to ensure even drying.

Once the cherries reach the desired texture, they are hulled to eliminate the outer layer, leaving behind the coffee beans.

Cocoa Beans Processing

Cocoa beans are harvested from seeds of the cacao tree. 

Once the pods are collected, they are cut open and the seeds, along with their surrounding pulp, are extracted. 

Similar to coffee, the processing of cocoa beans involves fermentation, drying, and roasting steps.


Fermentation of cocoa beans takes place by naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria.

The beans are placed in a container along with their surrounding pulp and typically fermented for 2 to 7 days, depending on the desired flavor, temperature, and humidity.

During fermentation, sugars in the pulp are broken down, and the process helps develop the characteristic flavor of cocoa.

You generally place cacao beans in banana leaves during fermentation because it helps to hold in the heat.

Some also believe that banana leaves help to provide beneficial yeasts and microbial agents to the cacao fruit.


After fermentation, the beans are spread out in the sun or dried using artificial means.

This crucial step reduces the water content of the beans and stabilizes them, preventing spoilage.

Beans are regularly turned over to ensure even drying and may take several days to reach the perfect moisture level.


The dried cocoa beans undergo roasting to enhance their flavor profile and remove any remaining bacteria.

Roasting is done at various temperatures and durations, depending on the taste and texture of the final chocolate product.

Both coffee and cocoa beans go through a grinding process after drying and roasting, which prepares them for their respective beverage and confectionery uses. 

The appearance, size, and specific processing techniques vary between coffee and cocoa beans, but the essential steps of harvesting, fermenting, drying, and roasting exist in both cases.

Roasting and Grinding

cocoa beans in a bowl and chocolate

Coffee Roasting

Coffee beans undergo a roasting process that brings out their unique flavors and colors. 

The roasting process for coffee beans generally lasts longer than it does for cocoa beans. 

During this process, you heat the beans to high temperatures, which causes them to release gasses and moisture, leading to a change in their flavor profile.

Fun fact, the roasting temperature for coffee beans can range from light roast (about 375°F) to darker roasts (about 465°F). 

Light roasts preserve the original flavors of the bean, while dark roasts create richer, bolder flavors. 

The roasting time can vary based on the degree of roast desired, often taking anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.

Coffee shops have a variety of different roasts and flavors depending on the type of coffee drinks they are making.

Instead of an electrical coffee maker, you can also use a French press to make coffee manually.

Cocoa Roasting

Cocoa beans, on the other hand, prefer a slower and lower-temperature roast. 

The best way for the optimal roasting temperature for cocoa beans is between 250°F and 275°F. 

The roasting process for cocoa beans usually takes between 30 and 90 minutes. 

This longer, slower roast helps remove unwanted acetic acid that forms during the fermentation process and enhances the bean’s natural chocolatey flavors.

Some of the key differences in the roasting processes for coffee and cocoa beans include:

  • Temperature: Coffee beans are roasted at higher temperatures (375°F – 465°F) compared to cocoa beans (250°F – 275°F).
  • Roasting time: Coffee beans roast for 10 – 20 minutes, while cocoa beans roast for 30 – 90 minutes.
  • Flavor development: Coffee beans’ flavor profiles range from light and fruity to dark and bold, whereas cocoa beans develop their signature chocolate flavors during roasting.

Grinding is another essential step in the preparation of both coffee and cocoa beans.

After the roasting process, the beans are ground into a powder, which you use to prepare various beverages and products.

Coffee grinding

The grinding process for coffee beans produces coffee grounds, which are then brewed to make coffee.

The grind size can vary depending on the brewing method used. For example, a coarse grind is ideal for a French press, while a fine grind is better for espresso.

Cocoa grinding

After roasting, cocoa beans are ground to small pieces and create cocoa powder. Which you can use as a base ingredient for chocolate and other cocoa-based products.

Unlike coffee, cocoa powder is typically ground to a much finer consistency, which is important for achieving a smooth texture in chocolate.

While both coffee and cocoa beans undergo roasting and grinding processes, there are notable differences in the temperatures, durations, and purposes of each process.

Differences in Taste and Flavor

cup of coffee with cocoa beans

Cocoa beans and coffee beans exhibit notable differences in taste and flavor. 

Coffee beans have a bitter taste and slightly acidic taste, while cocoa beans offer a much sweeter taste. 

The acidity in coffee beans varies depending on the type and origin, but it generally contributes to the sharp, bright flavors that coffee drinks, a cup or coffee, or cup of joe can have.

Cocoa beans, on the other hand, have a characteristic chocolatey flavor that is less acidic and significantly sweeter than coffee beans. 

In fact, the roasting process for cocoa beans is shorter than that for coffee beans, which results in a darker color and a more intense, chocolatey aroma.

Coffee beans and cocoa beans also differ when it comes to their caffeine content. 

Coffee beans contain more caffeine, which gives them their stimulating effect. 

Caffeine content varies depending on the type of coffee bean, but it generally ranges between 0.8% to 2.5%.

Whereas, cocoa beans possess a lower caffeine content with about 0.15% to 0.25%. There is also a decaffeinated coffee option for those who do not want to consume caffeine.

Considering the nutritional differences between the two, coffee beans have a higher carbohydrate or sugar content of 50% compared to cocoa beans.

Which comes in at 20%. In contrast, cocoa beans carry more fat (around 50%) than coffee beans (approximately 14%).

The key differences in taste and flavor between coffee and cocoa beans include:

  • Coffee beans: bitter, slightly acidic, earthy flavor, higher caffeine content
  • Cocoa beans: sweeter, chocolatey flavor, less acidic, lower caffeine content

The differences in taste and flavor make coffee and cocoa beans suitable for different applications, with coffee beans primarily used for brewing beverages and cocoa beans being the main ingredient in chocolate products.

Nutritional Value and Health Benefits

coffee beans in heart shape

Coffee and cocoa beans offer distinct nutritional profiles and health benefits due to their unique composition of nutrients, antioxidants, and other natural compounds.

Coffee beans have a high caffeine content, which can provide a boost of energy and mental alertness. 

They are also rich in antioxidants, particularly chlorogenic acid, which may help protect cells from damage and reduce inflammation. 

The calorie content of coffee beans is relatively low, making them a popular choice for many health-conscious individuals.

On the other hand, cocoa beans are an excellent source of several essential minerals and nutrients, such as:

  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Fiber
  • Protein

These nutrients are crucial for maintaining various bodily functions, including bone health, muscle function, and digestion.

Cocoa beans are also rich in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that can improve heart health. Flavonoids may help:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Prevent damage to blood vessels
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease

Moreover, cocoa beans contain theobromine, a compound similar to caffeine but with milder effects. It can provide a gentle energy boost without the jitteriness associated with caffeine.

Theobromine can potentially support heart health and lower blood pressure.

In terms of nutritional value, cocoa beans are more nutrient-dense than coffee beans.

They offer higher levels of fiber, protein, and various essential minerals.

However, they also contain more calories and carbohydrates, which you should consider when incorporating cocoa into your diet.

Both coffee and cocoa beans go through fermentation processes during production, which can impact their nutritional value and antioxidant content.

The fermentation stage helps develop their rich flavors and unique properties. Color-wise, roasted coffee beans are typically a deep brown shade, while cocoa beans vary from light to dark brown depending on the level of processing.

Depending on an individual, there have been some studies that show that consuming coffee could help with cardiovascular disease, heart disease, parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, lower blood pressure, cognitive function, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Both coffee and cocoa beans offer valuable health benefits and nutritional elements.

Whenever you are at your local grocery stores, choosing between them ultimately depends on your personal preferences and dietary needs.

Uses in Beverages and Food

different types of coffee beans

Coffee beans and cocoa beans, while both seeds from tropical fruits, have distinct applications in various beverages and food items.

Many use coffee beans to create different types of coffee beverages, offering a range of flavors and caffeine content. These include:

  • Morning coffee: A staple in many morning routines, providing an energy boost.
  • Espresso: A concentrated form of coffee often used in specialty drinks like cappuccinos and lattes.
  • Instant coffee: A convenient form of coffee made from dried coffee powder, ideal for quick preparation.

In addition to beverages, coffee beans are in various food items, such as baking recipes and coffee-flavored ice cream.

Cocoa beans are the primary ingredient in chocolate production. There are several types of chocolate that vary based on the proportion of cocoa solids and cocoa butter:

  • Milk chocolate: Contains cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk or dairy products.
  • Dark chocolate: Has a higher concentration of cocoa solids, providing a more intense flavor.

You can use coffee beans to create cocoa powder, which many use in numerous food and drink recipes, like hot chocolate and chocolate-flavored baked goods. 

Hot chocolate is a popular warm beverage made from cocoa powder, sugar, and milk or water.

Cocoa butter, extracted from cocoa beans, is a key ingredient in white chocolate and is also used as a fat source in various baking recipes and snack foods.

Coffee beans are predominantly used for coffee beverages and select food items, while cocoa beans primarily serve as the basis for chocolate, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter in various food products and warm beverages.

Growing Conditions and Yield

cocoa beans being spilled out from cup

Coffee beans and cocoa beans have different growing conditions, which directly affect their yield.

Altitude and Temperature

Coffee beans, specifically Arabica coffee beans, thrive in higher elevations with a temperature range of 64°-70°F (18°C-21°C). 

They can tolerate mean annual temperatures up to roughly 73°F (24°C). On the other hand, cocoa beans grow in warm climates and don’t have specific altitude requirements.

Trees, Shrubs, and Bushes

Coffee beans grow on the coffee plant, which is a shrub or small tree. The beans develop in small, round red berries called coffee cherries. 

In contrast, cocoa beans come from the cocoa tree and grow in long, orangish-red pods. When first harvested, the beans have a purple hue, which turns dark brown as they dry.

Commodity and Growing Region

Both coffee and cocoa beans are major agricultural commodities. 

Coffee is predominantly grown in the so-called “Bean Belt”. Which includes countries around the Equator, such as Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Vietnam. 

On the other hand, cocoa beans are primarily in West Africa, with Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria being the top producers.

Yield and Varieties

The yield of coffee and cocoa beans depends on various factors, such as climate, soil conditions, and farming practices. 

Coffee plants produce more beans per acre than cocoa trees. 

In terms of varieties, there are two main types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta, with Arabica being the most popular. 

For cocoa beans, there are three main varieties: Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario. Forastero is the most widely grown, accounting for about 80-90% of the world’s cocoa production.

To summarize, coffee and cocoa bean production is influenced by factors like altitude, temperature, and growing region. 

Coffee plants require higher elevations and specific temperature ranges, while cocoa trees can grow in warm climates without specific altitude requirements. 

The yield of these beans depends on climate, soil conditions, and farming practices.

Archaeology and Cultural Significance

cocoa beans in cup with chocolate

The histories of coffee and cocoa beans run deep into the cultures that first discovered and cultivated them. 

Archaeologists have evidence of both of these plants being used and valued by ancient civilizations.

Coffee Beans

Coffee beans, which are the seeds of the Coffea plant, have a rich history dating back to the 9th century. 

They were first discovered in the region now known as Ethiopia, where the beans were chewed as a stimulant. 

However, the practice of brewing coffee as a hot beverage originated in the Arab world during the 12th century. 

Over time, coffee was shipped in wooden boxes and spread to various continents. They have become a significant aspect of the culture in many countries.

  • Trade and expansion: The importance of coffee in trade and its growing popularity can go back to the early 15th century. The Ottoman Empire played a significant role in introducing coffee to Europe, and from there, it eventually reached the Americas and the rest of the world.
  • Social gatherings: The use of coffee promoted social interaction, as people frequently gathered in coffeehouses to converse, conduct business, and enjoy this energizing beverage.

Cocoa Beans

Cocoa beans, the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree, have been consumed for more than 3,000 years. 

Archaeologists have evidence of cocoa being around from ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmecs and the Maya.

  • Food of the Gods: The word “Theobroma” translates to “food of the gods,” reflecting the reverence that ancient cultures held for cocoa. They believed it was a divine gift and used it in spiritual rituals, celebrations, and as a sign of prestige. This belief in cocoa’s divine origins is further reinforced by the fact that its scientific name, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods” in Latin.
  • Culinary use: Apart from its cultural significance, cocoa was also prized for its culinary and medicinal properties. Ancient civilizations prepared cocoa by fermenting, roasting, and grinding the beans to make xocolatl, a bitter chocolate drink often seasoned with spices.

As both coffee beans and cocoa beans have long been cherished for their unique flavors and cultural significance, as coffee drinkers it’s fascinating to delve into their respective histories and the ways they’ve shaped human societies across time.

Final Thoughts

The comparison between coffee beans and cocoa beans reveals fascinating insights into two widely enjoyed beverages: a cup of coffee and hot cocoa.

Coffee beans have a rich history, dating back to an Ethiopian goat herder who discovered their energizing properties.

When roasted and brewed, coffee beans produce a stimulating and aromatic cup of coffee, enjoyed by millions worldwide.

On the other hand, cocoa beans, when processed and mixed with milk and sugar, create a comforting and indulgent hot cocoa.

Cocoa beans contain antioxidants that help combat free radicals in the body, promoting overall well-being.

Whether sipping a steaming cup of coffee or savoring a velvety hot cocoa at room temperature, both coffee beans and cocoa beans offer distinct flavors and experiences, catering to diverse tastes and preferences.

coffee beans vs cocoa beans Pinterest image

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