The coffee seeds we grind, brew, and drink every day are only a small part of the coffee plant. What we call beans are just the seed of a fruit the size of a large grape. Surrounding that inner seed is a complex piece of biology, including silver skin, parchment skin, a pectin layer (the mucilage), and finally the skin of the fruit. By itself, this outer material has a unique flavor, being both tart and sweet.
The skin and flesh of the fruit can be dried, concentrating some of the flavors into something called cascara, which means “husk” or “shell” in Spanish. Its resulting flavor is somewhere between a strawberry, dragonfruit, kiwi, and fruit gum.
Cascara has been consumed in one form or another for centuries. In Yemen, one of the first places to grow coffee outside of Ethiopia, it is called Qishr, often ground finely and mixed with spices before being brewed. It can, however, be difficult to find cascara outside of coffee producing countries; the skin of the coffee is also valuable bio-material for composting on coffee farms, returning nutrients to the soil. Additionally, drying the cascara is difficult and labor intensive. It has a very high water content and must be dried carefully and quickly to prevent degradation and spoilage. This process takes up valuable real estate at the mill that could otherwise be occupied by the seeds of the coffee drying. Very few coffee mills or farmers produce cascara for these simple reasons.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to visit a coffee farm get to see, smell, and taste all the parts of the coffee plant. We get to experience first hand the heady jasmine-like aroma of the coffee plant’s flowers, the sweet juice inside the fruit, and the tough skin of the fruit. It can be revelatory to realize that what gets shipped to us here in the United States is only a part of the coffee fruit.
By developing direct relationships with coffee producers we have the opportunity to access this unique product. Over the last five years we’ve purchased coffee from the Menendez family of El Salvador, and this year we dove in and bought 2500 lbs of cascara from them. Our hope is to share this unique product with our customers.
Guillermo and Miguel Menendez enjoying the Belgian-style Cascara Wit at Base Camp Brewing
We’ve experimented with cascara in a few creative ways already: we partnered with Base Camp Brewing to create a Belgian-style Cascara Wit using our cascara in lieu of coriander and citrus peel to create a unique, very drinkable “coffee” beer that is not a traditional coffee stout or porter. We also produced a Coffee Cherry Tea
with Smith Teamaker that can be brewed on its own or added to any number of craft beverages, both alcoholic or not. You can purchase a box of this tea as well as sample a house made cascara soda (using our signature cascara syrup) at our flagship shop in the SE.
Stay tuned for additional collaborations and unique cascara products slated for 2017, and come on by and taste it for yourself!