With chefs now doting on undervalued plant parts, much as they once championed lamb bellies and trotters, cascara seems poised to leap into the mainstream, and a pair of local entrepreneurs is egging it on.
Indigo Road coffee manager Michael Mai and Chris Nickels this month are releasing a bottled carbonated drink built around coffee cherry pulp, a byproduct which until recently would have gone straight to the compost pile. Mai describes Arabica Soda as an alternative to iced coffee.
“It won't make you feel terrible after you drink it,” he says. “It is refreshing and lifting.”
Created through hulling, cascara has little in common with the coffee beans that the process was designed to liberate. The spent fruit is low in caffeine; high in antioxidants and endowed with a spicy, figgy flavor.
Over the past year or two, an increasing number of independent coffee shops have begun to brew cascara tea. Cascara also figures into contemporary cocktails, beers and infused spirits, although its most significant public appearance to date came courtesy of Starbucks. A cascara latte was the coffee giant’s first new beverage of 2017; the wintertime drink was served with a bisecting dash of cascara sugar, intended to visually mimic the structure of a coffee cherry.
Cane sugar also is an ingredient in Arabica Soda, along with water and coffee. “We place value in the transparency of our ingredients,” Mai says, explaining that the component coffee and cascara will change according to the season.
For the first batch of Arabica, Mai and Nickels used a Nicaraguan cascara imported by California’s Bodhi Leaf Coffee Traders and an Ethiopian coffee roasted by Charleston’s Black Tap.
Mercantile will stock Arabica Soda, scheduled to debut by the middle of next week; a few restaurants and food trucks are also planning to offer the drink. For more information, visit @arabicasoda on Instagram.