Coffee is today’s favorite beverage without a doubt. It is consumed in many countries, each of them having their unique drink and their own coffee culture, even though coffee culture nowadays is rather universal thanks to big coffee chains like Starbucks.
It is thanks to this uniqueness that we can find great drinks.
Almost all of the best coffee drinks were originally from one country; espresso in Italy, egg coffee in Vietnam, dalgona coffee in Korea, and so on.
But let’s talk about the very first country to popularize coffee: Yemen.
Yemen and coffee
Many myths and stories are surrounding the discovery of coffee. They all agree on one thing: coffee was discovered in Africa.
In Ethiopia, to be exact. And yet, it was Yemen that first started commercializing and selling the stuff to Europe (who couldn’t get nearly enough of it).
There is one story that accounts for this:
A Sufi Monk was on a pilgrimage that would take him from the Middle East to North Africa and back. On his way back, as he was passing through Ethiopia, he encountered a goat herder.
As they were talking, he noticed the goats munching on some berries, and asked the herder about them.
The herder told him that the berries didn’t have much flesh, but eating a bunch of them gave you a lot of energy.
The monk, intrigued, took a few of this with him. He made his way to Yemen, right off the African coast, and presented the cherries to another monk.
The monk, thinking it was wrong, cast them into the fire. But then, as the seeds inside roasted, the air was filled with that coffee aroma that we all know and love. That was all he needed to change his mind!
It would be right here in Yemen where the first coffee farms would be established, as well as some of the first coffee houses.
Think about Mocha, the famous coffee drink. That is, in fact, the name of the biggest port in Yemen.
Early in history, people didn’t start off using the word coffee (from Kaffa) and simply called it Mocha, because that’s where it came from.
…So how is any of this relevant?
Because it would be right here, in Yemen where we are now, that coffee cherry tea would be invented.
As we mentioned earlier, the first coffee farms ever were established in Yemen. To harvest coffee beans, you have to get the seeds off the fruit —the coffee cherry— which is usually discarded.
But with the passing of the years, Yemeni farmers wondered if there was something to be done about all that waste.
So they started drying off and slightly fermenting their leftover cherry skins, or husks, with what flesh was left.
After they were completely dry, they would use them to make tea.
While this tea doesn’t contain a lot of caffeine, it is a delicious infusion. Its taste is surprisingly nothing like coffee but rather mild, fruity, and sweet. It is called Qishr.
Qishr The Popular beverage
It’s called Qishr and it’s an incredibly popular beverage in Yemen. The Yemeni original uses more than just dried coffee husks.
It is combined with sugar, cinnamon, and freshly grated ginger; coincidentally, spices that are used widely in the Middle East with coffee.
These dried husks have a black color which is brought about by the natural fermentation they go through and are originally red.
They are sold in bags that look a lot like coffee bags and because it is technically a byproduct, it is incredibly cheap.
Something that first started as a way to avoid generating so much waste ended up being one of the country’s most important traditions.
Making Qishr takes a little longer than some infusions (about 8 minutes), which is needed to draw enough flavor out of the coffee husks. It is sweetened, condiment, and finally, it is to be had hot.
Qishr is so central to Yemeni culture that Yemeni immigrants usually find a way to make it wherever they go and they often miss Qishr over actual Yemeni coffee, which some say is one of the best in the world.
Coffee Cherry Tea Cascara & Yemeni Qishr – Video
Coffee cherry tea around the world
Naturally, it didn’t take long for the rest of the world to catch on to the wonders of coffee cherry tea.
This drink spread rapidly throughout all of the Middle East and it is now offered as a delicacy in many places.
Plus, coffee cherry tea offers many benefits:
- It prevents diabetes.
- It has been proven that coffee cherry tea (otherwise known as Cascara tea) helps in preventing this disease, but does not aid in managing it. It is not recommended for those who already have diabetes.
- It has a lot of polyphenols
- Coffee is already thought to be the most important source of antioxidants in the western diet.
- Coffee cherry tea, however, is an excellent source of antioxidants through another source: polyphenols. These types of antioxidants are mostly found in fruit and are great for your health.
- It helps with digestion
- Like many infusions, coffee cherry tea helps with digestion. This effect is enhanced if taken with ginger, which also helps with all sorts of stomach-related ailments.
- This effect extends to regularity since the albeit small amount of caffeine in coffee cherry tea works as a very mild laxative.
- It’s a mild energizing beverage
- Coffee cherry husks do have caffeine in them. Contrary to popular belief, caffeine isn’t all concentrated in the beans but is present in the whole fruit.
- The catch is that most of the cherry is made up of beans— although this may vary depending on the variety. But usually, coffee cherries are more beans than actual fruit.
- So this led to the assumption that caffeine is not found in the actual fruit, but it is. So while coffee cherry tea doesn’t have nearly as much caffeine as actual coffee, it does contain an amount comparable to white or green tea.
Coffee cherry tea has been popular in historically coffee-growing countries, although particularly poor countries.
This includes Yemen, Somalia, and Bolivia. Bolivian culture is very environmentally friendly, so this type of tea is widely consumed all around the country. It is called Sultana.
In the US, coffee husks for making this tea have been increasingly available in the 2010s, and are becoming ever more popular. Big cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, and NYC offer different types of processed coffee husks, most of them coming from Latin America or Africa.
Yemeni coffee husks are difficult to come by, however, and are considered a delicacy.
Big coffee chains have at times incorporated this into their menus.
Starbucks has offered a seasonal “cascara latte”, and Shake Shack a “cascara shake”. Cascara is simply the Spanish word for “husk”.
How to make coffee cherry tea
There are several different recipes, each attributed to a different region. We will cover the most simple one to make coffee cherry tea and then go over other recipes, like Qishr, and then move on to a more modern take: the cascara latte.
Coffee cherry tea
What you’ll need:
- A French press
- 20 grams coffee cherry husks/cascara
- 400 grams of water
- Heat the water.
- Meanwhile, pour the cascara into the French press.
- Once the water is near-boiling, pour about half into the French press.
- Stir for 10 seconds.
- Pour the rest of the water and place the lid on the French press.
Now all that’s left is waiting for it to steep. You should wait at least 4 minutes and up to 8 minutes for it to brew. It should be a dark red color.
Now, let’s do the more traditional Yemeni version of it: Qishr.
How to make Qishr
The secret to good Qishr is, actually, two things. The first is to use Ceylon cinnamon, which comes from Sri Lanka and has a much more vibrant flavor.
The second and most important one is to use fresh ginger instead of ground ginger. The difference in flavor is abysmal.
What you’ll need:
- A French press
- 20 grams coffee husks
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger or sub with 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Sugar to taste (2 tablespoons, typically)
- 400 grams water
- Heat the water until it boils, then turn the stove off.
- Grate the ginger.
- In a French press, mix the sugar and coffee husks.
- After two minutes have passed, pour half of the water into the French press.
- Add grated ginger and cinnamon; stir for a few seconds.
- Pour the rest of the water and place the lid on.
As usual, now we wait. The steeping time is around the same as regular coffee cherry tea. More time means a stronger brew, while shorter steeping times are better for a more subtle flavor.
Cascara Latte is a refreshing take on your regular latte. The addition of cascara gives it a bright, sweet, fruity flavor that adds a lot of value to the latte.
It feels much better than other latte spin-offs because the flavor combines so well with that of coffee. It should, after all, be a coffee cherry!
The key to a cascara latte is to not use cascara tea, but actually cascara syrup. This is a trick that Starbucks uses time and time again with their recipes.
So to make a cascara latte, the real recipe that we need to learn is how to make simple syrup using coffee cherry husks.
Cascara simple syrup
- 1 cup (250ml) water, filtered
- 1 cup sugar
- 20~40 grams coffee cherry husks, depending on how strong you want the flavor to be
- Pour water into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat and add sugar and husks.
- Bring the heat back up and stir continuously until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Keep stirring for a few moments.
- Turn the heat off and leave it to cool off for about an hour.
If it doesn’t acquire that syrupy texture, then turn the heat back on and keep stirring for five minutes or more depending on how thick you want it.
Once it’s done, store it in a sealed container so that it lasts as long as possible. It only makes a small amount of syrup, but it should be enough for about ten lattes.
Another tip for making cascara syrup, if you’re looking for something for a flavor that’s closer to Qishr, is to use cinnamon sticks and ginger along with the coffee husks when making the syrup. Just a small amount will guarantee a more complex, richer flavor.
And now, it’s time for the latte.
What you’ll need:
- 2 shots of espresso
- 4 ounces milk
- 2 tablespoons cascara syrup
- Brew the espresso and set it aside.
- Froth the milk to the desired level of foaminess. Preferably, for this drink, it shouldn’t be too foamy.
- Add syrup to the milk and stir.
- Pour milk into your cup.
- Sweeten if desired.
Just like that, you have a unique latte that tastes quite different from most other unconventional lattes that you may have tried before. Plus, it’s got actual coffee fruit in it. That counts for something, doesn’t it?
The flavor of the coffee fruit, after all, is the one that combines the best with coffee. That’s why this particular ingredient is making its way into a coffee culture as more people realize just how good of a combination this is.