You’re probably familiar with coffee beans, but what about the fruit of the coffee cherry itself? In many coffee-growing countries, the coffee cherry’s outer skin – which elsewhere is often discarded after the green coffee bean is removed from the cherry – is dried and turned into cascara. The name translates literally to “husk,” “peel” or “skin” in Spanish; cascara can be brewed hot or cold to make “coffee cherry tea.” Just like with coffee, the flavor depends on the varietal, and now, local baristas, bartenders and brewers alike are using cascara to lend sweet, fruity notes to drinks.
At Westport Social, the massive $5.5 million project that opened just outside of St. Louis in September, the food and drink menus are almost as much fun as the pingpong, darts, shuffleboard and karaoke lounge spread throughout the space. Developed by bar manager Kyle Mathis, known for his work at Taste in the Central West End, the cocktail menu is full of riffs on classics, like the Collins, Mule and Daisy. The White Russian, for instance, combines vodka, almond milk, J. Rieger & Co. Caffé Amaro and cascara simple syrup. The syrup is made in house by steeping the cascara in hot water for five minutes before it’s strained and added into the sugar. Mathis says he’s played around with cascara in cocktails since first trying it at Sump Coffee in St. Louis a few years ago. “Cascara reminds me of a black tea with a lot of red-berry flavors,” he says. “Coffee and cocktails have so many things in common; I love integrating the two.” At Westport Social, Mathis says guests will frequently ask questions about ingredients they don’t recognize, and cascara is quite the conversation-starter.
Westport Social, 910 Westport Plaza Dr., Maryland Heights, Missouri, 314.548.2876, westportsocial-stl.com
The Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge
Brock Schulte is a huge fan of using tea in cocktails, period. The bar director at The Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge – the swanky new spot that opened in the West Plaza neighborhood in August – says he can even convince a vodka-lover to drink Scotch by using tea, a milk wash and a little bit of lemon juice. For the Wanderlust Julep served on the main bar menu last fall, he knew he wanted to use J. Rieger & Co.’s Caffé Amaro, but thought the coffee liqueur was a bit too bitter in that application. To soften the bitterness, he infused the amaro with cascara, which – when combined with Appleton Signature Rum, Château Arton Armagnac Fine Blanche, smoked Grand Marnier and Cinzano 1757 – made for one tasty drink. Although The Monarch doesn’t currently have any cascara drinks on the menu, Schulte says he’ll likely play around with it in future cocktails. “I’ve tasted cascara a couple of times and it’s crazy how varying in taste it can be,” he says. “It’s sort of about the terroir – locality really plays a big part and can change the flavor.”
The Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge, 4808 Roanoke Pkwy, West Plaza, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.437.7912, themonarchbar.com
Flying Machine Coffee
The Qishr drink served at Flying Machine Coffee in Urbana, Illinois, is very different from the Yemeni drink of the same name. Rather than the traditional preparation – in which the coffee husks are simply boiled with ginger and cinnamon – Flying Machine steeps a mix of cascara, ginger, cardamom and star anise in hot water, then tops the mixture with a little steamed milk and cinnamon. Owner Josh Lucas says the end result is similar to the way the shop – which opened a second location last fall just a few miles west in Champaign – makes its house-blended chai latte. The flavor varies depending on the state of the cascara and the coffee varietal from which it comes, but he generally describes it as slightly sweet and woody. “If it’s really fresh, it will have a lot in common with a raisin – the same texture and smell,” he says. “But the drier they get, the more earthy they become.” Flying Machine has also used cascara in special iced teas, and Lucas plans to make a cascara shrub next summer. “It’s an easy thing to sell because every fifth guest will ask, ‘What’s Qishr?’” he says. “By the time we’ve described it, most people are interested.”
Flying Machine Coffee, 208 W. Main St., Urbana, Illinois, 217.607.2721, flyingmachinecoffee.wordpress.com