If there has been a criticism of Costa Rica coffee in the past, it's the fact that it lacked flavor distinction. It was a straight-forward, clean, softly acidic, mild cup. It had lots of basic "coffee flavor." Until ten years ago, the trend in Costa Rica was to create large volumes of moderately good "specialty" coffee. That was before the small farms started to build their own wet mills to process their own coffee. In a few short years, there was suddenly a huge range of single-farmer lots to chose from, and many variations on how the coffee was processed after picking, resulting in a greater range of flavor profiles. It's the reason we have invested so much time in this origin, to offer distinct single-farm lots on a seasonal basis. [Learn more about Costa Rica in our Coffee Library]
Coffee, or tea, or both? When you wet-process coffee, the skin is difficult to save, and usually becomes part of the compost mix for the farm. But in Arabia and Africa, the skin of the cherry is used to make a very potent tea called Qishr (also spelled Kisher). In fact, making a tea from the dried coffee fruit pre-dates roasting the coffee seed to crush and steep in water, coffee as we know it. And even today, the price of Qishr is higher than the price of coffee in an Arabic market. Cascara is the name used in Central America for these fruit skins, and a perfect name for the tea made from them as well. If you like fruit-blend herbal teas, especially those with fruited flavors like hibiscus, rose-hips, tamarind, orange peel, mango, apple, you should like Cascara tea a lot. It makes amazing iced tea as well, and with a very moderate amount of honey can be very pleasant. The best way to make Cascara tea is in a French Press, or you can use any method you would use for preparing herbal tea. Brewing like filtered coffee does not work well as it benefits from a long steep time (5 - 8 minutes), and you can make it a bit strong, then add water (or pour over ice) to taste. Traditionally, Qishr has additions of cardamom pods and sugar while brewing, and that is another interesting preparation with Cascara as well. Does it have caffeine? Yes, since all parts of the coffee plant do ...but we don't know how much, and it will certainly depend on steep time and the amount used to make each cup. What's interesting about this cascara, is that it is dehydrated - part of a joint effort on the part of the folks at the Helsar micro-mill in Costa Rica, and a research team at the University of Costa Rica. They found that cascara has 50% more antioxidants than cranberries, and are using dehydration for drying the cherry to near 0 moisture, making for a crisp and very edible product. Yes, edible! In addition to tea, try using it in place of dried fruit on cereal, yogurt, or even on it's own. Expect to see the occasional stem too, easily spotted and removed. And while the final produce is not certified organic, they are only using coffee cherry from Helsar's three organic farms.
Cascara has a raisin-prune smell, clean and clearly fruited. It shares many light, and tart smells and flavors with dried hibiscus, the flower used to make jamaica tea in Mexico. As soon as you add water you smell tamarind, accompanied by delicate floral to herbal smells. As mentioned, the flavors of many dried fruits come out in this tea: hibiscus, tamarind, raisin, dried apple, dried passion fruit, and mango. The cascara/qishr we've had in the past benefited from a touch of sweetener, but this one is quite sweet on it's own. We steeped 10 grams in 350 ml of water for about 8 minutes and the brew had a simple syrup quality, very sweet, but free and clear of the unrefined aspects of raw sugar. It has bigger body than most herbal and black teas, on it's way to apple juice in weight. Fool around with steep times, ratios, and additives to find the combination that works best for your taste. As the cup cools in temperature, the silkiness and weight of the liquor becomes more and more apparent, as do sweet to tart fruited flavors like apple, yellow cherry, and ripe cranberry. Possibilities for the use of Cascara tea seem endless; cooking, sauces, baking, beer brewing. It's a tea...but it's coffee...and now also a snack? A unique coffee product, to say the least.