Cascara (a.k.a. coffee cherry tea) is something that is picking up steam in the craft coffee world. A few years ago, I would hear some mentions of it here or there but would have had to actively search if I wanted to find some (let alone a recipe for brewing it up). These days, I see cascara in many coffee shops and online roasters. If you have questions about this trending fruit tea, here is an informational and brewing guide.
What is Cascara?
A brief history
Coffee is the seed of a fleshy, cherry-like fruit that grown primarily between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn (you can read more about green coffee here). In most cases, the flesh of the coffee cherry is removed and discarded during coffee processing. This discarded flesh from coffee processing can be a nuisance and can even create a pollution problem if it is not dealt with properly.
WARNING: Do not confuse cascara made from coffee cherries with Cascara Sagrada. Cascara Sagrada (sacred bark) is the dried bark of the cascara buckthorn plant that grows in the Pacific Northwest. It has an extremely bitter taste (allegedly) and is known for its laxative properties.
Traditional consumption of coffee cherry tea is thought to be even older than roasting the coffee seeds (beans). Legend has it that coffee was discovered by an Ethiopian herdsman (Kaldi) and his goats. He began making a caffeinated tea out of the fruit (which eventually morphed into roasting the seeds themselves). A drink made from the coffee fruit has been consumed in Yemen (called qishr*) and Ethopia (called hashara) ever since. Cascara is also consumed in Bolivia under the traditional name of sultana.
The credit for the recent rise of cascara’s popularity has been given to Aida Batlle, a renowned coffee grower from El Salvador. It is said that during a cupping, Batlle made an infusion out of some discarded coffee cherries and coined the phrase cascara (which means skin or husk in Spanish) because coffee pulp wasn’t a very marketable name.
From airplanes to hotel rooms, there are contingencies for nearly every coffee-on-the-go situation. My tiny travel coffee kit (it all fits in the Aeropress bag) can make me a great cup of coffee anywhere there is electricity but it takes a little startup capital.
I am always on the lookout for easier, less hassle ways to brew a cup of coffee in a pinch. That is why my interest was piqued a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon the Trader Joe’s Pour-Over Coffee Brewer. There is a whole market segment dedicated to simple and disposable ways to source a good cup of coffee.
Here are my musings on the disposable Trader Joe’s coffee brewer (spoiler alert: I was not impressed) as well as two viable coffee-on-the-go alternatives.
The Trader Joe’s Pour-Over Coffee Brewer
The Trader Joe’s Pour-Over pouch can be purchased at the store for $1.49 or online for $18.49 for a six pack. It contains 20 grams of pre-ground Arabica coffee. The title is a bit of a misnomer as it is not a pour-over but an immersion brewer (like the French press).
The packaging had a best by date (5-20-17) and stated that the coffee was packed in Denmark. I was curious if this was pretty standard for Trader Joe’s coffees, but could not find anything about where their other coffees where packed or roasted.
It surprised me when I opened up the top of the pour-over pouch to check out the inner workings. I expected to see some sort of coffee tea bag on the interior perhaps like they have for single brewers (non K-cups) in hotel rooms. Instead, there is a rectangular filter in the top of the pouch that holds the coffee. Outside of this filter is room for more water and an outlet to a spout for decanting your coffee when it is finished brewing.
To use this Trader Joe’s Pour-Over pouch, simply add hot water up to one of the two fill lines (for a stronger or weaker cup) and let steep for four minutes. When it is ready, decant and enjoy a mess-free full immersion brew.
Autumn is right around the corner but the cold brew craze is still going strong. Before the days turn from muggy to brisk, I want to squeeze in one more cold brew post, this time about the Toddy cold brew system.
The Toddy cold brew system is an extremely popular way to make cold brew. I don’t own one (I certainly have too many brewing apparatuses already) but was able to borrow one for most of the summer to play around with.
Here is my two cents about the Toddy, its pros and cons and my go-to Toddy recipe.
What is the Toddy Cold Brewer
The Toddy is a device that makes brewing large batches of cold brew (just over 1.5 liters) pretty much as close to effortless and mess free as something gets. The classic Toddy cold brew system consists of a large plastic vessel for brewing and a glass carafe for storing the cold brew once it is filtered.
Are you new to cold brew? You can read more about cold brewed coffee here and here.
The Toddy is designed so that the brewing vessel sits securely on top of the carafe. The brewing vessel has a spot at the bottom for a small hockey puck shaped filter (about the diameter of an Aeropress filter) to sit above a hole that is blocked by a removable rubber stopper. When brewing is complete, filtering out the coffee grounds is as easy as unplugging the stopper and setting the brewing vessel on top of the carafe.