We seem to find new and newer ways to enjoy coffee. We humans are diligently looking to invent or produce new things again and again. But, although going from espresso brews to hand dripped to siphon might be a pleasing growth in our array of possibilities in the coffee world, coffee has even more to offer than the modern industry is selling. There has been coffee wine and there (still) is the brewing of the coffee berry, not the toasting of the seed. In South America it is known as ‘Cáscara’, the Spanish word for peel. In Yemen, where it is an old tradition, it is known as Quishr, or Kishr. The fruit is dried without the seed and gets hot water poured over, like tea. This form of preparation and the light color seems to be the reason some like to call it tea.
Whenever I visit Blue Bottle Coffee in Chelsea, I look forward to a little glass of the brew of the coffee fruit.
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.
An old tradition from Jemen and practiced in some countries in South America, is to use the pulp of the coffee fruit to make an infusion. In Jemen known as Quishr and in South America as cáscara, meaning the peel (of the fruit).
The evolution of coffee has witnessed many stages, some of which we do not even know today, but from writings. One has luckily continued to be used throughout the centuries and is becoming increasingly popular in the western world of coffee. In South America it is known as cáscara (peel), while in Yemen it is mixed with spices and called Quishr or Kishr. The fruit flesh (pulp) is dried out and later infused in water, just like tea leaves. Yesterday I FINALLY was able to experience this coffee and its taste at the Blue Bottle Coffee in Chelsea, New York.
Several times I read about this coffee having the taste of prune juice, but it apparently depends heavily on the type of coffee used and also on its preparation. My cáscara was very much like a well rounded fruit tee. Clearly fruity, not at all sweet, although the coffee flesh is dried in its very ripe state.