Coffee is not coffee. Well, coffee is much more than coffee.
The lexification of the history of coffee does not give us enough details to let us know with exactitude, what this small tree, usually known as Coffea Arabica Linnaeus, has given us over the many centuries of its natural existence. Today, ordering coffee is understood in most parts of the world as wanting a dark and bitter drink. In several parts it means also getting a hot drink resembling a tea in taste and color. In addition to these two coffee versions, there were times when coffee was used to produce wine, for which the leaves or the fruit were fermented.
The tea version interested me for the longest time. I had read and heard much about it, but had not experienced it in my palate. At last, a couple of weeks ago it appeared in front of me, without my asking for it. One of the most dedicated and high-end Coffeehouses of the world must be the Chelsea Branch of Blue Bottle Coffee, in New York. I knew of their Siphon Bar and wanted to taste a coffee brewed with a Japanese siphon. What I did not know, as an aperitif they offer a small glass of cáscara. This is a drink obtained from drying the pulp and skin of the coffee berry that is usually discarded of when producing the better known roasted coffee seeds. In countries of Central America it consists of the simple infusion in water; in Yemen it is prepared with added spices and called quishr or kishr.
At the Siphon Bar a portion of Cascara is (sometimes) served with a bourbon infused marshmallow. Quite an American feature in contrast, but I found it to work well in that combination. As for the coffee tea, I was a bit surprised, not to taste the prune juice taste I had been told to expect. But the taste of any of these other coffee drinks will depend mainly on the country and plantation of origin. The coffee tea Blue Bottle offers comes from the coffee farm Aida Battle, situated on the slopes of the Vulcan Santa Ana in El Salvador.
This cascara resembles a green tea in its aroma and taste, or a very gentle infusion of black tea leaves. But it reminded me as well of drinking white teas, in taste and in color, and of some fruit infusions. It is a slightly sweet brew, as if sweetened with a minuscule amount of honey. Other tastes include a light whiff of citrus, as well as some weak notes of apple juice.
What surprised me a bit was the lightness of the taste, considering the density of the golden hue. This may have to do with the way Blue Bottle makes the infusion. What surprised me even more was the taste of the coffee berries in my mouth. These fruits must be in its very ripe state to be used for “tea”, which usually implies sweetness is at its highest. However, chewing on the fruit proved to be much lower in sugar than expected. Also the consistency is extremely chewy, to that a complete destruction through chewing was not possible. But you may want to try it yourself. The Blue Bottle Shops offer the dried cascara for home brewing.