We are thrilled to see Cascara or coffee cherry skins finally coming to the mainstream. We have been leading this category development since 2008.
Ask the average consumer what 'cascara' is and you may not get much of a response. Although it is well-known in coffee-growing countries in Central and South America, the rest of the world is less aware of cascara. That could end this summer as cascara – a drink made from the pulp of the coffee cherry – is beginning to pop up in packaged beverages, thanks to a wave of new product innovations from around the globe.
Starbucks deserves credit for starting what could prove to be the biggest tea trend of the year. The coffee giant made the Cascara Latte its first new beverage of 2017, a sign that great days lie ahead for cascara. Starbucks' Cascara Latte is a hot drink that combines espresso with steamed milk and cascara syrup, topped with foamed milk. A sprinkle of cascara from cascara extract and cane sugar are drawn in a straight line across the foam top, producing a shape that looks like the outline of a coffee bean which cleverly alludes to the drink's origins.
In Spanish, the word 'cascara' means 'husk'. The name describes the outer skin and pulp of the bright red coffee cherry that contains the green coffee bean (which becomes the coffee bean we are all familiar with after it is roasted). The outer skin of the coffee cherry is thick and has a slightly bitter flavour. The fruit beneath this outer skin has the texture of a grape and a sweetness that has helped put cascara on the map as a drink option in coffee-growing countries. Coffee farmers have long made a tea infusion from the pulp of the coffee cherry, an ingredient viewed by the coffee industry as a waste product that is often composted and used as a crop fertiliser, despite its high concentration of antioxidants.
In Colombia, iced cascara is made from dried coffee fruit that is steeped like tea and blended with carbonated water, sugar, and ice. It is this iced format that offers the best chance for commercial success for cascara as it allows the more subtle flavours of cascara to shine; dark brown sugar and maple flavours that complement the drink's sweet fruitiness punctuated by the flavour of plums and cherries.
Packaged drink makers are just beginning to experiment with cascara. In the UK, Square Root London recently paired up with Climpson & Sons Roastery to introduce Square Root London Cascara Club soda. The bright red, naturally-caffeinated drink combines organic Bolivian cascara with Jamaican hibiscus and fresh lime juice for a "striking, fresh-tasting drink" said to "bring out the best cranberry, raisin, and cacao flavours of the cascara berry". For consumers that lack a frame-of-reference to this type of beverage, Square Root London compares the drink to an aqua fresca with a hint of cherry and cacao.
Meanwhile, in Germany, Cologne-based Privatbraueri Gaffel Becker & Co offers Cascara Sparkling, a recently-launched non-alcoholic bottled drink packaged in long-neck glass bottles. Vegan, gluten-free and very low in calories, the ready-to-drink product is "discreetly rounded with the non-alcoholic gaffel Kolsch" beer. The carbonated drink has a spicy, malty flavour, rounded off with fresh organic limette juice and organic agave syrup for a light sweetness and a fruity taste. The use of cascara allows the drink to tout its high antioxidant and vitamin C content. With just 16 calories per 10cl serving, the drink will appeal to consumers seeking low-calorie refreshment options.
Cold brew coffee pioneer Stumptown Coffee Roasters has just teamed up with Slingshot Coffee Co for a launch destined to go down as the most unusual new packaged cascara product. Long Distance Relationship (Stumptown is based in Portland, Oregon and Slingshot in Raleigh, North Carolina) is a 50/50 blend of cascara tea and cold-brewed coffee that is new in the US. The canned product uses single-origin and single-variety cascara husks that are sourced from the Finca Kilimanjaro farm in Santa Ana, El Salvador. Stumptown details the cascara production process on its website, noting that the coffee cherries are separated from the seeds (coffee beans) and left whole at Finca Kilimanjaro. The whole cherries are then washed clean, a process that removes some additional pulp from the husk, and are sent to dry on raised beds. How coffee cherries are processed is said to have a strong bearing on the flavour profile of cascara, suggesting a wide gulf between good cascara and bad cascara.
The challenge that all of these companies have in common is communicating what cascara is, and is not. That task is complicated by the fact that cascara is a tea drink (similar in many ways to herbal tea) made from a raw ingredient that comes from the fruit that carries the coffee bean – a confusing contradiction. This confusion is magnified by the different names that cascara goes by in some countries. In Nicaragua, the drink made from cascara is actually called 'coffeetea'.
Consumers may also be confused by the term cascara, which could just as easily be described as dried coffee fruit. According to a GlobalData Q1 2017 consumer survey, 25% of consumers globally do not know what coffee fruit is, a figure that rises to 54% for consumers in the UK. For perspective, just 6% of consumers in Colombia do not know what coffee fruit is.
Coffee shops now offering cascara for sale are finding themselves in the education business, something that may persist until more consumers have direct exposure to cascara. At Spot Coffee in Rochester, New York, signage titled "What is cascara?" greets consumers unfamiliar with the new drink. The coffee shop describes cascara as a "herbal tea made from the dried fruit of the coffee cherry" which has "notes of honey, cherry, and tobacco". Available hot or iced, the drink is said to be lightly caffeinated.
A lot can change in a year; we'll see over the next few months if cascara can go from virtual unknown to the newest star in packaged beverages.