Dehydrated coffee cherries used to make a tea, flavors are tart and sweet, with notes of dried apple, hibiscus, tamarind, green tea, and nori. No roasting needed. Just hot water and 8-10 minutes of patience! 3 oz per bag
This cascara tea comes to us from Finca La Vega, a small farm in the mountains of Antioquia, in a town called Amagá. La Vega is a family-run operation, started by husband and wife, Jairo Taborda and Stella Rojas (that's them photographed with their three children in the 2nd image). They have around 13,000 trees planted - mainly Catimor and Castillo - on their 1900 meter farm, and are using fully organic farming methods for their coffee (thought not certified). Cascara is historically a bi-product of coffee production, and in the past processed in a way that lacks intention outside of the drying phase. But interest in the consumable coffee cherry product has grown, and we're seeing more and more care put into the production process, farmers creating a much more stable product, and paying attention to variables such as ripeness of cherry that will affect the end result in the cup. The folks at La Vega start by using the coffee cherry from their first quality ripe cherries. They clean the cherries with fresh water before pulping, run them through a depulping machine to remove the coffee seeds, then send the wet skins to large drying machines where they are dried over low heat to remove all of the moisture. The microclimate in this area tends to be wet, and so drying wet cherry would normally take too long on raised beds in the sun along, or in parabolico drying rooms. Drying is a very important stage of cascara production, and too long on the drying beds with all that moisture in the cherry can mean mold. The mechanical dryer is one way to navigate this hurdle, and other farmers have experimented with other methods including dehydration with some success. Like our cascara product from Costa Rica's Helsar micro-mill, La Vega Cascara Tea ships in 3 oz. bags, which is roughly the volume of 1/2 lb of green coffee. We've tried all sorts of preparation methods, and with a long steep time, we've found cascara to be pretty forgiving. Try starting with 12 grams cherry to 300-350 ml, steeping for 10 minutes and adjust from there. If you don't have a vessel that will hold 350 ml (canning jars are great for this), throw a dozen cherries in a coffee mug with some hot water (just off boil) and steep for 8-10 minutes.
Unlike whole coffee beans, smelling the whole cascara pre-brew does give you some indication as to what you'll find in the cup. At the very least there is a raisiny, dried fruit smell, like putting your nose in a bag of unsweetened dried apricots, or dehydrated green apple. It's that blend of light pectin sweetness, mixed with a sweet and slightly sour smell of drying organic matter (similar to compost in a way). But the flavors in the cup are so much more than this, as are the wetted cherries after having been steeped for several minutes. There's a light and fresh "greenness" in both that reminds me of wetted green tea leaves, and even seaweed salad to some extent, and is quickly followed by a tart floral note of hibiscus tea. Fruit flavors that emerge include dried apple and tamarind, prune, unsweetened dry cranberry, and orange essence water. There's a I enjoy cascara without sweetener, as the level of natural sweetness is light, refreshing, and clean like simple syrup on it's own. That said, we've added table sugar, honey, and other sweeteners in small doses, and the cascara really pairs well with any number of sweeteners. We've found positive results with long steep times, 12 grams in 350 ml of water for about 8 - 10 minutes, or for single serving try throwing 3 grams (roughly 12 cherries) in a mug with hot water, cover and steep for 8+ minutes. There's no need to worry about longer steeping bringing out overly tannic flavors, as this is not the same as black tea. Cascara also 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.