The ziplock packet contained small, dried pulped fruit. They were coffee cherries that smelt like the afterlife of coffee suffused with citrus notes. The label read cascara, in bold, followed by coffee cherry tea in fine print. Cascara, meaning husk in Spanish, is now being used to brew a hot or cold beverage known as coffee cherry tea, or, more accurately, a tisane.
This drink is new and unconventional, a classic case of reusing waste. For the pulped cherry would typically be composted in coffee farms.
In March, Blue Tokai introduced cascara in its cafés as an option for non-coffee drinkers. Matt Chittaranjan, the co-founder of Blue Tokai, says they source it from three estates in India. “Estates pick only the right cherries to produce and hygienically process it. There’s a lot of variety in flavour from batch to batch. Just like coffee, the flavour of cascara from different farms varies,” he says, adding that there isn’t a lot of awareness about the product in India. The intention of launching it in cafés was to start the conversation, but the product had to move online due to the lockdown and can be bought on their website.
Cascara was created about a decade ago by Aida Batlle, a coffee grower in El Salvador, when she steeped the coffee husk in hot water instead of throwing it away. “I love her inventiveness. She brought it into the retail space and it has done very well. She experimented with various methods to remove the skin and came up with different taste profiles,” says coffee taster Sunalini Menon. CEO of the consultancy Coffee Lab in Bengaluru, Menon is considered to be Asia’s first female coffee taster.
In 2018, Starbucks added a drink with cascara syrup to its menu in the US and Canada. An article on Bloomberg Quint, Coffee Waste Is Now Fetching A 480% Premium Over Coffee Itself, quoted Batille as saying she was earning six times more from coffee husks sold as cascara than the coffee bean that year.
A few weeks ago, I bought a packet of cascara from Blue Tokai and steeped a teaspoon in steaming hot water. After carefully reading the instructions on the packet, I steeped some in cold water for a few hours and refrigerated it for a cold brew. The warm tisane had potent notes of coffee and a hibiscus-like tang, while these flavours were subdued in the cold brew.
When the flavours are not overwhelming in a drink, it can mean only one thing—it can be used to make a cocktail. Here’s the recipe: mix 60ml cascara cold brew with 30ml gin and top off with tonic, ice and a slice of lemon. It makes for a refreshing cocktail with a mild coffee taste.
“It’s multidimensional in taste. The flavours will depend on he coffee variety, how it’s produced, how it’s brewed and how it’s presented. I take a cinnamon stick and give it a swirl after brewing it hot,” says Menon. Taking a cue from her, you can add spices like cloves, star anise or cardamom too. Or, perhaps mix it with Perrier water or soda. It is a versatile brew, so the possibilities are endless.