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Cascara Turns a Discarded Coffee Byproduct into the Latest Trending 'Tea'

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A new caffeinated option is popping up in Dallas: a tea-like drink made up of something that used to be considered an unwanted byproduct of the coffee-producing process.

Cascara comes from same tree as coffee beans but is much closer to a tea than coffee — in fact, it is just like a tea, except instead of using tea leaves this drink is made with the skin of the coffee cherry. Let's break it down: Coffee beans are the seeds of the coffee tree. The beans come from the tree's fruit, called the cherry, inside which are two seeds and some pulp. Coffee cherries look a lot like, well, cherries.

The pulp and cherry skin are removed during processing and usually only the bean is brought to the United States. From there, you can probably guess what happens next: The coffee beans are roasted and served in all the ways we’ve come to know and love.

But some farmers have realized that instead of composting or throwing the cherry skins away, they can sell them to specialty coffee shops that steep the cherry skins in water and serve the resulting cascara tea to their customers. The name "cascara" is based on the Spanish word for husk or skin. It's caffeinated, but not nearly as much as a regular cup of coffee. Davis Street Espresso owner Shannon Neffendorf first tried cascara on a farm trip to Las Brumas in El Salvador and was instantly a fan.

“I think it has a unique flavor that appeals more to a tea drinker than a coffee drinker, but the sweet fruitiness you get out of it makes it very approachable," he says. Neffendorf sells cascara from three different farms in El Salvador, and it's available at Davis Street Espresso year-round.

Some varieties come with the skin intact, others are more broken apart. The last time I had it at Davis Street, it was light and sweet with a slightly bitter but not unpleasant finish. Davis Street and Full City Rooster both carry cascara, and Austin's Houndstooth Coffee is looking to bring carbonated cascara on tap to Dallas soon.

Cascara even popped up in an unlikely place last summer: beer. Aaron Garcia, head brewer and general manager at Small Brewpub, experimented with a spontaneously fermented cascara pale ale that sold out so quickly, he plans to return to the idea later this year. Count me in. 

Davis Street Espresso, 819 W. Davis St., davisstreetespresso.com

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