Coffee, or tea, or both? Cascara is the skin of the coffee cherry. When you wet-process coffee, the skin is difficult to save, and usually becomes part of the compost mix for the farm. But in Arabia and Africa, the skin of the cherry is used to make a very potent tea called Qishr (also spelled Kisher). In fact, making a tea from the dried coffee fruit pre-dates roasting the coffee seed to crush and steep in water, coffee as we know it. And even today, the price of Qishr is higher than the price of coffee in an Arabic market. Aida Batlle, who produces some of our most amazing Central American coffees (Finca Kilimanjaro, Aida’s Grand Reserve), started to save and dry the coffee fruit skins from her small dry-processing experiments. Cascara is the name used in Central America for these fruit skins, and a perfect name for the tea made from them as well. If you like fruit-blend herbal teas, especially those with fruited flavors like hibiscus, rose-hips, tamarind, orange peel, mango, apple, you should like Cascara tea a lot. It makes amazing iced tea as well, and with a very moderate amount of honey can be very pleasant. The best way to make Cascara tea is in a French Press, or you can use any method you would use for preparing herbal tea. Brewing like filtered coffee does not work well. Cascara benefits from a long steep time (8 minutes), and you can make it a bit strong, then add water (or pour over ice) to taste. Traditionally, Qishr has additions of cardamom pods and sugar while brewing, and that is another interesting preparation with Cascara as well. Does it have caffeine? Yes, since all parts of the coffee plant do …but we don’t know how much, and it will certainly depend on steep time and the amount used to make each cup.
Cascara has a raisin-prune smell, clean and clearly fruited. It definitely smells like dried hibiscus flower, also used to make Jamaica, the iced sweet tea found in Mexico. As soon as you add water you can smell tamarind as well, the other popular Latin iced tea. As mentioned, the flavors of many dried fruits come out in this tea: hibiscus, tamarind, raisin, plum/prune, dried passion fruit, and mango. I feel that it benefits from a little sweetener; I have used a moderate amount of honey with good results. It’s best to experiment with steep times and additives to find the combination that works best for your taste. Possibilities for the use of Cascara tea seem endless; cooking, sauces, baking, beer brewing. It’s a tea. But it’s coffee. It’s unique.