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Wine & Dine
February 28, 2019

Cascara: Not Your Average Joe Or Cup Of Tea

Text by Shubham Ladha

Somewhere between coffee and tea, this healthy tisane is finding a place in the beverage world

Single origin, multiple blends, full-bodied, first flush, herbal, infusions, cold brews — the list go on. The tea and coffee industry has really come into its own in the last few years, representing a diverse variety that’s now available in the country. There has, however, been an unnoticed and niche entrant in the industry in India that’s neither tea or coffee, but somewhere in between.

Cascara (meaning husk or skin in Spanish) is the ruby-red cherry husk obtained after the coffee fruit — which grow in the form of cherries — are skinned for the beans. Usually, they’re regarded as waste, but when sun-dried and brewed, they make an herbal tisane, that’s also claimed to be a superfood. Its fruity, floral and earthy flavour is naturally sweet, mimicking those of red cherry and rose with hints of hibiscus, dried raisins and tamarind, almost similar to Kokum.

While the concoction might seem new in India, the coffee cherry tisane has had its roots deep in Ethiopia, Bolivia and Yemen, where it’s called Geshar/Hashara, Sultana and Qishr respectively, and has been ritually brewed since centuries.

Cascara is available in India at the Goa-based Devi Coffee, founded by Devika Dutt and her husband Laszlo Kadar and Hyderabad-based the Roastery Coffee House, founded by Nishant Singh, who has been serving it at his café since a year now. They both source their beans from Karnataka, while Dutt also sources from Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

While Singh stumbled upon the tisane on the internet, for Dutt, it was after trying many-a cups of coffee from around the world. “My husband and I have always been avid coffee drinkers and enjoyed excellent coffees from various countries; we are constantly on the lookout for great coffee and coffee drinks across the world.  We’ve spent several years of hands-on-research, tasting and trying coffees, identifying sources, and this is how we discovered it. We found this extremely interesting as it’s a coffee product, but it’s brewed just like tea.”

Its unique properties and benefits intrigued them, as Dutt says, “It has all the health benefits of coffee with the anti-oxidants, such reducing chances of type two diabetes, Alzheimer’s, liver cancers, etc. In addition, it is rich in potassium, iron, calcium, vitamin A, etc.  It’s a great natural energy booster without any artificial additives. It’s gluten-free as well.” Singh adds, “The value of anti-oxidants is eight times higher than that found in berries. It’s a great, economic and non-acidic alternative to green tea as well.”

More than just being brewed in warm water, Singh expounds the brew’s versatility. “One can make hot brew like tea or a cold brew when soaked for several hours, which serves as a great base for iced tea and alcoholic beverages. It can also be fermented to craft cider or beer.”

Dutt sources organic coffee cherry and lends it more value by “specially roasting it” at her facility. “The idea is zero wastage,” says Singh. “Since the cherry husks would’ve otherwise been wasted, exported or used as compost, cascara helps in using the coffee fruit completely and gives an extra income to coffee farmers. It might help in reducing the prices for coffee as well.”

On how the tisane has been received by customers so far, Dutt says, “People were very pleased with the taste and flavour. ” Singh adds, “Indian consumers are finding it pleasant, as it’s exactly the palate of coffee we want, especially for those who don’t like coffee’s bitterness. And its caffeine content is one-third of coffee’s.”

Both the roasters sell raw cascara as well; Dutt on her website and Singh at his café. While they’ve gathered some momentum in the market, Dutt says, “Its consumers are and will be a part of a niche market. But just as the taste for Indian gourmet coffee, was very small, and has now grown significantly; the interest, understanding and uptake for cascara, I believe will be similar. Thus, the spread of its awareness is key. Given the current trend for health drinks and healthier lifestyles, cascara is set to become more popular slowly but steadily.”

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