Tasting Coffee Tea, Tea Infused with Dried Coffee Cherry Husks


[Photographs: Erin Meister]

There are coffee people, and there are tea people, but are there coffee-tea people? I don't just mean those who obsessively drink both bevvies (I'm a member of that club), but the lucky ones currently drinking "tea" made from coffee.

Coffee Cherries, the Fruit Around the Coffee Bean


Dried coffee cherries.

While we call the fruit that bears our coffee beans "cherry," you might be surprised to discover it's not nearly as meaty or juicy as the ones used in Grandma's famous pie. The beans take up most of the real estate inside the little red pods, which makes the fruit itself not that great for snacking—unless you want to crack a tooth.

That doesn't mean it's not delicious, though: When dried, the cherry can be steeped just like tea, and makes an incredibly syrupy and aromatic cup somewhat reminiscent of rooibos or a hibiscus infusion. Called cascara in Spanish, the dried cherry husks are a rare find in this part of the globe, though it's not uncommon to run into this sensual drink in coffee-growing regions farther east, such as in Yemen where the husks are used to make a hot ginger-spiced drink called qishr.

Coffee Tea Tasting

Last Friday at the regular weekly coffee tasting I host with my Counter Culture colleagues (yes, you can come; no, you don't need any experience), we got the kind-of-insanely-awesome opportunity to sample the cascara from three different farms, all of which are owned by the coffee-growing industry's equivalent to Mick Jagger: El Salvadorian farm owner and coffee producer Aida Battle. We were curious about the trio because the farms—Finca Mauritania, Finca los Alpes, and Finca Kilimanjaro—are planted with different bean varieties. But would there be a discernible difference on the palate between the fruits themselves?

Remarkably, there certainly is: While harder to detect in the aromas, the Finca los Alpes was noticeably tart and tobacco-like next to the brown-sugar sweetness of Finca Mauritania, while the more delicate Finca Kilimanjaro was intensely floral, sweet, and appley. And yes, I'm fully aware that this is why coffee people get made fun of the same way wine people do. Maybe you have to taste it to believe it.

And taste it you should: I think every coffee lover should jump on the chance to get their mitts on some of this stuff when the opportunity arises. I mean, when are you ever going to get to visit a coffee farm and eat a cherry right off the tree? This is as close to that as many of us will ever get, and we may as well savor it. (Heck—ice it. It makes an awesome iced tea, too.)

Dried coffee chery husks from Finca Mauritania, Finca los Alpes, and Finca Kilimanjaro are available from Counter Culture for $9.95 / 4-ounce bag.