Kentucky coffee tree is a medium tree with stout, blunt branches forming a narrow, rounded crown.
Leaves are alternate, compound, 1–3 feet long, 1–2 feet wide, with 5–9 branches; each branch with 7–14 leaflets; leaflets ¾–3 inches long, 1–1½ inches wide, broadest at or below the middle, margin lacking teeth, tip abruptly pointed; upperside dark green; underside paler, smooth.
Bark is gray to brown, shallow-grooved, with scaly ridges that curl away on one edge from the trunk.
Twigs are short, blunt, contorted, reddish brown, hairy, later grayish brown, smooth; pores numerous, orange; buds barely protruding from a silky-lined cavity.
Flowers May–June. Greenish white, about ¼ inch long; male and female flowers separate or on the same tree, in clusters.
Fruits October, persisting through winter. Pods 4–10 inches long, brownish black, thick, leathery, with 3–5 seeds; seeds blackish, rounded, flattened, ¾ inch long, very hard shelled, in a sweet, sticky pulp; pods fall to the ground unopened in late winter.