Coffee, like many of the things we adore and elevate, is steeped in a healthy dose of lore. I read somewhere several years (and many cups) ago that Saladin, sultan of Egypt and Syria, drank a wine fermented of coffee cherries. My logical side wants to assume that this beverage - if it in fact existed, at least in the form I’m thinking - predated the drink we know as coffee, the latter requiring the roasting, grinding and brewing of the seed (“bean”) within the cherry, the latter requiring merely water and a bucket to soak it in. (No easy thing in the Levant of Saladin’s rule, but easier than making a pourover.)
Still, you have to admire the man. It was, if nothing else, an admirable use of a byproduct.
Coffee cherries tend toward red and yellow. We’re now roasting a pink one (the Maracay Bourbon, holiday coffee numero uno). That is, we’re roasting the seed inside the cherry. The cherries seldom make it to the DoubleShot. During processing, they’re soaked (or dried) and pulped before being tossed or used for compost, the role they play in coffee having been expired.
Some of the cherries of Montelín, the farm of Juan Ramon Diaz, do make it to town, in the form of a mystery called cascara. Let’s start with how to say it: not like mascara; more like, ca-SCAR-a. What is it? The cherries I wrote of above have skins that, after they dry, become husks. Bits and piece of those husks, when brewed, become a kind of … something.
Tea, some might say. But tea is typically plant leaves, dried and rolled, then fermented. (Or at least, shrunken.) Cascara is not leaves. Can it be tea?
And, finally, why should you drink it?
I’ve had a hard time defining the flavor. The descriptors that tend to dominate the websites are “rose hip, hibiscus, cherry, red current (sic), mango or even tobacco.” What I taste is almost akin to an exotic fruit juice before it’s sweetened for mass-market consumption. Diluted apple juice comes to mind. Tea-like, I might add, in that the flavor profile is as often as not in the nose.
It’s an interesting choice for those who want to sample coffee in all its forms. Same as a cool backpack or pair of sneaks, it’s a sign of connoisseurship. You should deserve some credibility for drinking cascara by choice.
That said, they were messing around the other day behind the bar when Huxley handed me a cascara nitro. While the creamy top faded fast, the body was fruity, malty and delicious. It was my favorite incarnation of cascara yet.