You may not have heard of Cascara, but don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s kind of trendy, kind of not. Kind of coffee, kind of not. It’s a beverage industry outlier in search of an identity. It is perpetually the “next big thing”, and following it is a little like rooting for the Chicago Cubs, it simply never comes through. But, dare I say, the Cubs are still the best team in baseball this year, so maybe Cascara can be the next underdog of 2016…
Cascara, meaning “husk” in Spanish, refers to dried coffee cherries. Traditionally, when coffee beans are separated from their cherries, the fruit is discarded or composted. In recent years however, the Cascara has been increasingly set aside and processed as dried fruit to be used in a number of applications. Most notably, the dried fruits are used to create a tea-like infusion, or a “tisane”, that has properties of both tea and coffee, but isn’t entirely reminiscent of either.
In flavor, it tastes amazingly like cherry – sweet fruity notes, balanced with some jasmine and tamarind. But the body is heavier than a tea, more like a well-rounded coffee. And the caffeine is somewhere in the middle too – more than black tea, but less than a cup of coffee. An 8oz serving has about the same amount of caffeine as an espresso.
And like both tea and coffee, it can be brewed hot or cold, each offering a slightly different experience. I’ve been making mine hot in a French Press, and cold in a Willow and Everett Cold Brew infuser. My personal preference so far has been to brew it cold with about 40g/L, and steeping for 8 hours. The specifications vary tremendously though, as the market is still trying to figure out what to make of this product. The retail price, for example, can be found anywhere between $20 and $150 per lb, and the recipe ranges from 6g to 80g per L.
According to coffee supplier Melbourne Coffee Merchants, “Coffee farmers in Yemen and Ethiopia have in fact been drying and brewing cherry like this for centuries—possibly since before coffee seeds were first used to make a drink.” Today, you can buy the cherries dried, or in pre-infused ready-to-drink containers. There are some awesome cocktails and spritzers being developed for Cascara however, so there’s certainly no restriction to hot and cold brews. I’m sure there’s even market potential for more Cascara beers!