In the specialty coffee world, there's a new kid on the block: Cascara.
Also known as “coffee cherry tea,” Cascara (which means “husk,” “peel” or “skin” in Spanish) is made from the dried skins of coffee cherries. The pulped skins are collected after the seeds have been removed from the cherries, then shipped off after sun-drying.
Similar drinks – called quishr or hashara – have long been brewed in Yemen and Ethiopia. But Aida Batlle, a fifth-generation coffee grower in El Salvador, is to thank for bringing the beverage state-side.
At a coffee cupping a decade ago, she detected a pleasant scent emanating from the husks of some recently milled coffee. “Immediately I got curious with it,” says Batlle, in an interview with NPR. “And I just picked through it, cleaned it, and then put it in hot water to see what it was like. Then I called my customers at the time, and I was like, 'Oh, my God you have to try this. I'm going to send you a sample.”
Coffee, tea, or both?
Although it comes from the coffee plant, Cascara doesn't taste anything like coffee. It is often described as having a sweet, fruity, hibiscus-like taste. "It's a tropical, berry fruit that just happens to be coffee," says Megan Wood, co-owner of 44 North Coffee Roasters. "It's not tea – it's 100 percent coffee. But it smells like herbal tea.”
The caffeine content is also pretty low. One analysis found the caffeine content in cascara to be comparable to black tea. “Even at the strongest, longest brew, the caffeine content of cascara comes in 111.4 mg/L, compared to broad range of about 400-800 mg/L in brewed coffee,” explains Square Mile Coffee Blog co-founder Anette Moldvaer.
Cascara has made fans in the sustainability community because of its eco-friendly method of production. “Normally coffee cherries are considered a by-product of the coffee-making process and are either discarded as waste or used as compost. Now these cherries are being reused to produce a unique drink of their own,” says Fresh Cup Magazine.
While cascara currently occupies a fairly small niche in the coffee world (some may still find it difficult to track down), Peter Giuliano of the Specialty Coffee Association of America says it fits into a bigger food trend.
“Like in butchery, people are interested in eating the whole animal. In food, people are more and more interested in eating the whole farm, so to speak. We have been throwing away perfectly good coffee fruit for a long time, and there's no real reason for it, because it tastes delicious.”
Since it's still fairly new to the U.S., there is no exact recipe for brewing the perfect cup – cafés across the globe have been getting creative. Some serve it hot, some serve it cold. “Cascara Fizz” is offered at New England's Blue State Coffee, as well as the Blue Bottle Café in both New York and California. Slipstream in Washington, D.C., serves it as a soda.