Cascara 'Tea': A Tasty Infusion Made from Coffee Waste
Coffee lovers may have noticed a new offering in their local cafés in the last couple of years. Cascara is a tea-like drink with a fine, fruity flavor and plenty of caffeine, and it's popping up everywhere. For this new addition to chalkboards nationwide, credit Aida Batlle.
Batlle is a fifth-generation coffee grower in El Salvador, whose coffees have won international awards. One day a decade ago, she arrived at a coffee cupping —where coffees are sampled for flavor — and detected a pleasant, hibiscus-like scent in the room. When she asked the other coffee tasters about it, they pointed to the husks from recently milled coffee.
"So immediately I got curious with it," says Batlle. "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.'"
The infusion Batlle made from the coffee cherry, or pulp, needed a name. "Pulp was such a yucky word," she says with a laugh. "I was like, nah, nah, nah, this is cascara."
Cascara is the Spanish word for the peel or skin of a fruit. Coffee is a fruit, though most people don't think of it that way. Like cacao, it's processed opposite most fruits: The skin and flesh are discarded, and just the seeds are dried, roasted, and ground to make the beverage many Americans drink daily.
Batlle first used the skins of coffees processed as "naturals," which are dried whole, and then milled. This produced cascara comprised of fine flakes, similar to the tea in a tea bag. Then she began using the skins of coffees that are washed to remove the pulp before drying, as most coffee in Central America and Colombia is processed. This way, the cascara dries like a raisin, and, when brewed, plumps up to reveal the shape of the coffee cherry.
Batlle says many people think that cascara is more caffeinated than coffee, but her analyses show otherwise. One analysis found caffeine levels more comparable to black tea. Because it is a natural product, the caffeine content will vary from crop to crop, and is affected by brew strength.
Increasingly, people are developing creative mixed drinks. Cascara-infused vodka is popular, and Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Company even bottled a limited run of Cascara Quad beer.
Murray Carpenter is a journalist and author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts and Hooks Us.