Coffee Cherry Tea
Nov 11, 2021
One of the best things about coffee is its versatility. One of one simple plant, so many different drinks have come out. Coffee shop menus are interminable, and even have hidden off-menu beverages. All of them related in one way or another to coffee.
We owe this abundance of recipes, mostly, to the internet. It helps us connect to other cultures and discover new and exciting ways to prepare our coffee — it’s how in recent years we’ve become enamored with the Korean dalgona coffee or the Vietnamese egg coffee. Thanks to the internet, we discover these interesting new beverages and within weeks, we already see them on our local coffee shop’s menu. It’s amazing.
And yet, this isn’t the case with a great many other beverages that sometimes struggle to find the virtual spotlight. Such is the case with coffee cherry tea, a type of tea that has been made for centuries and is seen as a delicacy in many coffee-growing countries.
What is coffee cherry tea?
First, we have to establish what a coffee cherry is. Coffee beans are extracted from the fruit of the coffee tree. These are round, relatively small fruit that are more often than not called cherries. They turn a vibrant red when they are ripe, resembling actual cherries!
These cherries are 80% bean. What’s left after extracting the beans is a very thin layer of flesh and the skin. Coffee cherries are often chewed on in countries where coffee grows wildly. They contain caffeine, so after chewing on them for a few minutes, you get a nice dose of caffeine. Their flavor is also rather pleasant.
At first, coffee farmers only really cared about the bean. The husks were to be discarded. Yemen, one of the first countries to establish serious coffee farms and commercialize coffee, is where the practice of saving these husks was first recorded.
Farmers would save the husks and let them dry out in the sun; this drying was of course to help them last for longer, but at the same time it concentrated the flavor in the husks. These husks were then used to make tea.
While it first started as a money-saving thing, it quickly developed into one of Yemen’s most beloved beverages, becoming just as popular as actual coffee. In Yemen, it’s called Qishr, and it’s got a really interesting flavor.
How to make Qishr
Qishr isn’t just coffee cherry tea; it is condimented with spices. The most common ones are ginger and cinnamon, two spices that are heavily present in the Middle East already. Most traditional coffee recipes in this region contain cinnamon and ginger, amongst other spices.
So, basically, it is coffee cherry tea flavored using cinnamon, ginger, and a bit of sugar. The trick here is to use fresh, juicy ginger because it just has a much richer flavor than ground ginger. But if you don’t have any, ground is alright. Ground cinnamon is the way to go, but you can use whole stick cinnamon, too.
- A French press
- 20 grams coffee husks
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger or sub with 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Sugar to taste (2 tablespoons, typically)
- 400 grams water
- Heat up the water until it boils, then turn the stove off.
- Grate the ginger.
- In a French press, mix the sugar and coffee husks.
- After two minutes have passed, pour half of the water into the French press.
- Add grated ginger and cinnamon; stir for a few seconds.
- Pour the rest of the water and place the lid on.
The brewing time varies, but it’s usually between four and eight minutes. The color of the tea should be slightly red or or a more strong hue of red depending on how long you let it steep.
This tea is very versatile and you can add some of your favorite spices as well. Cardamom, ground cloves and even anise are all good combinations for this drink. Plus, it’s really really easy to make even if you don’t have a French press— you can use a pot, a pourover coffee maker, Aeropress, and so on.
Yemen is definitely one of the countries with one of the richest cultures around coffee cherry husks in the world. And coffee, too! Yemen’s most important port is called Mocha, which at one time imported so much coffee to Europe that it just became known as Mocha. That’s how we got a beverage named after this Yemeni port.
But there are many other countries that make coffee cherry husk tea.
In Bolivia, located in South America, there has long been a tradition of making this tea. It’s called Cascara tea, (husk in Spanish), or also called Sultana.
Bolivia is a rather poor country, which would explain why this practice was born without any actual influence from Yemen. Bolivian coffee farmers, in looking for ways to get every cent’s worth from their coffee, started making tea out of coffee husks.
Bolivian coffee cherry tea, naturally, has a different flavor from Yemeni coffee cherry tea. This is mostly because the two countries grow very different coffee and also because their processing methods are different. This makes for a friendly rivalry between Qishr and Sultana.
The one big difference is that Sultana is rarely ever condimented. Instead, it’s simply steeped in hot water and drunk with just sugar. In South America, Sultana is highly regarded as a health food. It actually has several scientifically proven benefits.
Coffee cherry tea benefits
#1 Prevents diabetes
It has been shown that Cascara tea helps in stabilizing blood sugar levels to some extent, which in turn helps in minimizing the risk of developing diabetes. It is usually prescribed in coffee-growing countries even to manage diabetes symptoms, although there isn’t enough evidence that it is as effective at managing diabetes as it is preventing it.
#2 Rich in polyphenols
Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant found in fruits. Antioxidants are what keeps us healthy, and what helps us prevent diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and many others. A healthy dose of antioxidants goes a long way at preventing these diseases.
Although coffee is already a great source of antioxidants, it turns out that Cascara tea is, too. It is rich in polyphenols, which coffee itself lacks. These are found in the coffee fruit, and are thought to be even more effective than the antioxidants found in coffee or tea.
Like coffee, Cascara tea contains caffeine. There is a notion that coffee husks don’t contain any caffeine and it’s all concentrated in the bean, but this is just a misconception. Caffeine is present in all of the fruit.
The amount of caffeine in coffee cherry tea is comparable to that in white tea. It is very low, but still enough for you to feel its effects. If you were to compare it with coffee, it has around a third of the caffeine content of a standard coffee cup.
So far we’ve presented Cascara as a very traditional, maybe even ancient beverage. But it doesn’t really end there: cascara can also be consumed in a more modern way. Cascara latte is a beverage that was first found in Starbucks seasonal menu, and it is still served there depending on the location, as only a few cities in the US import Cascara.
The cascara latte is all of the good, fruity flavor of cascara added to a regular latte. The key, like with many flavored Starbucks drinks, is not to make Cascara tea but to make a thick syrup out of it which we then use to flavor and sweeten the drink. Genius, isn’t it?
Here’s a recipe for making Cascara syrup:
- 1 cup (250ml) water, filtered
- 1 cup sugar
- 20~40 grams coffee cherry husks, depending on how strong you want the flavor to be
- Pour water into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat and add sugar and husks.
- Bring the heat back up and stir continuously until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Keep stirring for a few moments.
- Turn the heat off and leave it to cool off for about an hour.
You can use this recipe for many other ingredients, like ginger, to make syrup out of them with which to flavor your coffee.
Now that we have the syrup, we can get around to making the actual latte:
- 2 shots of espresso
- 4 ounces milk
- 2 tablespoons cascara syrup
- Brew the espresso and set aside.
- Froth the milk to the desired level of foaminess. Preferably, for this drink, it shouldn’t be too foamy.
- Add syrup to the milk and stir.
- Pour milk into your cup.
- Sweeten if desired.
And that’s it! Whether you prefer Sultana, Qishr or the more modern Cascara latte, you can now enjoy a different side of coffee that you never knew before and that is, frankly, quite delicious. You can order cascara online, and there are some coffee shops that sell it.