Cocoa beans vs coffee beans (beans showdown) 

Photo of cocoa beans on the left and coffee beans on the right. Cocoa beans vs coffee beans .

Two of the most popular beans you hear about are cocoa beans and coffee beans. Do you know the difference between them? Read on to find out the difference of cocoa beans vs coffee beans!

Cocoa and coffee beans are very different since one is used for coffee products, and the other is used for chocolate products.

Cocoa beans come from a pod and have to be hacked out (typically by using a machete), picked manually from their pod on a cocoa tree, and then processed. Coffee beans come from cherries of a coffee plant where they are separated from the skin and processed.

Tastewise, cocoa beans are bitter, whereas coffee beans are earthy and somewhat chocolatey — cool, right? There’s a lot more to know, though, so keep reading!

What are cocoa beans?

Cocoa beans are the starting point of your favorite chocolate-based products, including hot cocoa, chocolate chips, and chocolate bars. These beans come from a pod handpicked from a very sensitive tree (keep reading to know why).

Workers must cut open the pod and pull out the cocoa beans. The beans are large and narrow. They are often light brown. They are bitter since they contain very little natural sugar.

Fun Fact:

Did you know that the cocoa tree can refuse to bloom the next season if you nick its bark with your machete or other cutting utensil?

What are coffee beans?

Coffee beans are, of course, where our coffee and coffee-related products come from, including espresso and all types of coffee roasts. These beans are the centers of the cherries on the coffee bush. 

They are either mechanically stripped or hand-picked. They are small and have a seam in their middle, similar to a peanut. They taste earthy and sometimes chocolatey, depending. 

Cocoa beans vs coffee beans key differences

Already, you can see that there are many differences between the beans. But let’s take a closer look at what differentiates them in all their critical areas for a deeper and richer understanding.


Cocoa beans are always handpicked because they are very fussy. Not all pods can and should be picked at the same time, and they ripen differently from pod to pod. A machete is used to harvest them and then slit open the pods.

Coffee beans can either be picked by hand or stripped mechanically. It’s the most cost-effective to strip the plants, but some unripened or rotted beans can get thrown in with the ripe and healthy ones. Handpicking prevents this.


Cocoa beans have a lengthy processing time. They start by fermenting for six days, at least in a carefully controlled environment. The pulp dissolves gradually during this time. They will move on to the drying process, which I’ll discuss next!

Coffee beans start their processing by washing. There are three main methods for this, including the following:

  • Water
  • Honey
  • Natural

Water washing is done with water, of course, and it removes the flesh of the cherry. Then they’re fermented to remove any leftover flesh. 

Honey washing relies on using a de-pulper to remove the flesh, and then they’re dried, giving them a sweet taste (hence the name).

Natural washing is when the beans are dried with the flesh on them. Machines remove the pulp and skin after this.


Cocoa beans are dried in wooden boxes or drying beds. Sometimes they are dried on pallets or even on brick patios. Whichever technique you use, they’ll have to be turned regularly to help them dry out evenly.

Coffee beans are dried similarly with brick patios. They are turned regularly to help them dry evenly. They can also be artificially dried with mechanics and solar drying.

After drying, cocoa beans are then aged for 30-365 days, depending on where they are going and how they’re being marketed and sold. Coffee beans don’t need aging and skip straight to the next stage.


Both of these beans require roasting. Both are done in a rotating, evenly distributed drum roaster. But the rest is very different.

 Cocoa beans are roasted at a cooler (comparatively) temperature and much slower. Most of the work is done in fermentation, so the roasting doesn’t need to do as much.

Coffee beans go through a lot of effort in roasting. They are roasted with very high heat, and the process is fast. They have audible phases called first and second cracks. These stages help determine the final roasts.

After the roasting, both beans should be quelched to cool them off quickly and preserve the roasting’s freshness and “timing.” 

Are cocoa beans better than coffee beans?

This is a tough question, of course, because they are different from each other. Essentially, coffee beans and cocoa beans are not in direct competition, but both can be used together (see below for more information on that).

The one thing that makes one better than the other is the health profile, which I’ll also talk about later.

Can you use cocoa beans like coffee?

This is a great question. You can use cocoa beans as a great alternative to coffee beans if you’re looking for an alternative to coffee for one reason or another. You would just grind them as you would with coffee and brew the drink the same way. 

Mixing cocoa beans with coffee is the best way to try it out. Aim for a 1:3 ratio, and you’ll get a rich coffee with a distinctive chocolate taste to it! This essentially makes it into a mocha. Curious about what a mocha is? I’ve written about what a mocha tastes like to help you explore it further!

Another interesting take is that someday in the future, cocoa farming may replace coffee farming. PHYS explains that climate change will make coffee farming extremely difficult, and more and more consumers will be forced to rely on cocoa beans! This is yet another reason to take climate change seriously — it’ll save your coffee!

Does cocoa have more caffeine than coffee?

Coffee has more caffeine than cocoa; you’ll be happy to know. Coffee has about 200 mg per portion, and cocoa, in the same portion, has 20 mg. This is a great alternative or add-in to classic coffee, as I described above, for those that want to make good health decisions!

Which is healthier: cocoa or coffee? 

Cocoa and coffee have intriguing differences when you look at them from a health perspective. As far as calories are concerned, coffee wins with one calorie compared to cocoa’s 228.

Cocoa beans have 46g of fat compared to coffee’s 15g. Cocoa beans have 32g of fiber compared to coffee, having 20g. Cocoa has 14g of protein, whereas coffee has 15g.

The biggest difference, besides calorie count, is in the vitamins and minerals. Coffee has high amounts of copper, niacin, potassium, magnesium, and iron. Cocoa beans don’t have high amounts of these.

Which is better: cocoa beans or coffee beans?

Cocoa has an excellent health profile, including a strong dose of antioxidants. These help support heart health, boost memory, and even help improve athletics. Coffee has much the same. If you are worried about calories, you’ll find coffee beans better. Just watch that caffeine level!

Both delicious coffee beans and cocoa beans have a lot of differences. Cocoa beans come from pods and are fermented, dried, and aged. Coffee beans from the cherries of a coffee plant are washed, dried, and roasted.

Cocoa beans are bitter, which makes the dark chocolate taste so strong, and coffee beans are earthy and nutty and/or chocolatey. You can replace one with the other or blend them, as I talked about above, for something unique and special.

Know someone who loves coffee and chocolate? There’s no better article for them to read than this one!

Avatar photo

Robert Knowlton is an expert barista with more than 15 years of experience. Robert's main goal is to make sure everyone can enjoy the perfect cup of coffee regardless of their skill level.