Not every coffee enthusiast knows that coffee bean is actually the seed inside of a coffee cherry.
Are you wondering how is it transformed from the fruit into your daily cup? Can you eat the fruit? And does it taste like coffee?
While the coffee cherry pulp has a direct impact on the taste of the resulting coffee bean, the remaining husk from the processing is regarded as waste. But it has some surprising benefits and nowadays has a few different uses.
Want to know more about this magical fruit?
Is Coffee a Cherry?
Wait, coffee is actually a fruit?
That’s right. You probably knew that coffee grows on a tree. But what you didn’t know is that this tree produces fragrant white blossoms (some say they smell similar to jasmine) which then turns into green berry-like cherries. Once ripe, they take on pink or red color and they are ready to be picked. Still, a long way until they take on the form of espresso.
The coffee beans are actually the seeds that you can find inside this cherry-like fruit. Technically speaking, the cherry fruit’s outside skin is hard and bitter, on the inside you can find a juicy sweet flesh and underneath it a slimy layer which protects the best thing underneath it, the bean.
Does It Impact Your Cup?
Some farmers say they can judge the quality of the bean-based on the taste of the cherry. The riper cherries mean darker colors and more developed sugars. Most of the magic happens during the method which separates the pulp from the beans.
We distinguish the two most popular processing methods. Put simply, the natural method is when you dry the whole cherry and remove the skin and the pulp afterward. And the washed method is when you remove them before fermenting the beans in water.
Understanding the methods in which the coffee is processed makes it easier to refine your flavor expectations when choosing your coffee beans and one of the characteristics to look for when picking your single origin.
The washed method, which is the one most commonly used in the coffee industry, produces coffee that is brighter, more acidic and smooth. While the natural method produces coffee fuller in body, sweeter and more robust.
What Happens to the Pulp?
Unfortunately, most of the pulp is discarded into waterways, polluting them. Some farmers use it as a fertilizer and others have found more innovative ways of using this by-product of coffee production.
The most common use for the husks obtained from the natural processing method is making, what is called, a cascara tea. It is high in antioxidants and delicious. It also offers a solution to the agricultural inefficiency and could provide an additional revenue source for coffee farmers.
Coffee? Tea? Or Both?
Even though this coffee cherry tea has been popping up in cafes all around the world, it is still not that common. The cascara skins, meaning “husk” or “pulp” in Spanish, differ from the traditional tea leaves by being bigger and looking more like dried raisins or shells of a nut.
Cascara tea can be brewed similarly to a tea or with a French press and the specific husk-to-water ratios affect the resulting cup. Since cascara is still quite a new beverage, at least in the modern world, it provides room for experimenting with the ratios and the steeping time.
Cascara comes from a coffee plant but it tastes nothing like coffee since most of the flavors of the bean are developed during the roasting process. Usually, it is described to have a sweet flavor similar to fruit, berries, hibiscus or even tobacco. Some producers say that some of the taste notes of the cherries can predict the aroma of roasted coffee.
The cascara tea made from coffee cherry is commonly consumed in Bolivia, often paired with a few sticks of cinnamon and referred to as “poor man’s coffee”. It is also believed that it was drunk in Yemen even before the traditional coffee was invented.
The coffee beans get the caffeine from the cherries but when the leftover husks are brewed into cascara tea, the caffeine levels remain low. Similarly to regular tea which also contains caffeine, but compared to a cup of coffee, the levels are insignificant. So it may be a good option for those who don’t want to part with the coffee plant but want to cut down on the caffeine and the jitters.
Other Coffee Cherry Uses and Benefits
Using the coffee cherry is not only better for the environment but has impressive health benefits too. It is packed with antioxidants and gives you a solid health boost.
Some innovative coffee producers don’t stop at cascara tea. Nowadays, the coffee cherry is used to produce different products such as butter, chocolate or even sorbet, taking the coffee recipes for foodies to the next level.
This Hawaiian company picked up on the anti-inflammatory properties of the coffee cherry and they use the pulp to give their coffee superb health benefits and even make coffee cherry juice.
The National Institute of Health ranked the coffee cherry antioxidant levels to be 10 times higher than those of pomegranate or green tea. That’s also why some skincare companies use coffee cherry to give their products superior properties and prevent skin aging.
What About Simply Eating the Fruit?
Apart from the fact that not everybody has access to a coffee farm, it is an acquired taste. Some say it tastes sweet like mango or watermelon and fragrant like jasmine, hibiscus or rosewater. Or everything at the same time. The taste is delicate and fleeting but it’s the slimy texture that doesn’t sound inviting.
Is the coffee cherry the new superfood? That’s probably taking it too far. But there are a few different ways the dried husk can be utilized after the coffee has been processed.
The coffee bean goes through quite a journey, from the white blossoms and ripe red cherries until it makes its way into your cup.
You can eat the cherries, brew the husks, taste its unusual flavor in the form of a dessert, or even buy a skin product made from coffee cherries. These options are worth looking into since the by-product would otherwise go to waste.
There you go, coffee cherry mystery unraveled.
The coffee plant is truly a magic one.
But you knew that already.