Cascara–coffee cherry tea, or qishr as it's called in Yemen–is an herbal tisane made from the dried cherry skins (or husks) of coffee. These skins are a byproduct of the milling process that turns coffee cherries into the evenly dried green beans ready for roasting, and they usually get sent to the compost pile. Which is a shame, because cascara can have a uniquely sweet, floral, fruity flavor.
Drying the skins without spoiling is a difficult process that few coffee producers try, but some of the best in the world succeed in creating this unique and delightful product. Cascara has a cult following among speciality coffee aficionados around the world, and the list of devotees is growing as cascara becomes more widely available, thanks to work of enterprising and detail-oriented coffee growers.
Some say that cascara contains more caffeine than coffee, though this is based purely on anecdotal evidence (London's Square Mile Coffee had their cascara tisane tested in 2013 at a German decaf factory and turned up very low levels of caffeine.) That being said, there is the possibility that there are other psychoactive alkaloids being extracted beyond the usual caffeine, which could explain reports of a noticeably different “high” from cascara.
The folks at Everyman Espresso in New York City source their cascara from Aida Batlle's Finca Mauritania by way of Counter Culture Coffee. They brew the tisane and do one better – they make it into a light, refreshing soda served alongside their rotating menu of espressos.
“I liked the cascara, but I wanted to lift and separate the flavors in the tea and taste them in a more refreshing way,” says barista Amanda Whitt, who introduced cascara to the soda program at Everyman. “It makes the cascara come alive.”
Make this delicious drink at home!
45 grams cascara tea (Verve Coffee sells it online)
400 milliliters water
Steep for five minutes, stirring frequently
Add 2 tbsp of sweetener (Everyman uses Demerara sugar)
Bottle the syrup and store in the refrigerator. (Discard after about a week)
At Everyman Espresso, they use 1 part syrup to 8 parts soda water. You can add as much or as little to taste – but their ratio makes for a perfect balance of fizz and flavor.
Those who've experimented with cascara have made lovely kombucha, beer, liquor infusions, and cocktails. What's your favorite cascara experiment? Let us know on Twitter, or share your favorite recipe in the comments section below.