Costa Rica is not necessarily the best climate for producing cascara “naturally,” especially in the often-rainy West Valley where this particular cascara is produced. But what about using alternative energy sources for this, alleviating the need to dry outdoors? That’s where the work of the University of Costa Rica and Helsar Micro Mill intersects. Starting as a University-led project looking to isolate the red pigment of coffee cherry for dying, turned into a focused attempt to optimize production of food-grade, dehydrated, Cascara tea. “Food-grade,” that’s right. This product is good enough, not to mention “safe” enough, to eat.
So back to traditional processing. Being that cascara has mainly been a by-product of coffee production, in most cases there’s not a lot of intention behind the final product. There’s a general lack of consideration for factors such as cherry ripeness, cleanliness of machinery, sorting, etc. Cherry comes in for processing; it’s usually graded, and then pulped. And while the coffee may be separated by qualities, the cherry from pulping, regardless of grade, goes into a single pile, which is pulled from for making the tea. You can imagine what effect this has on the end result, inconsistent at best. This isn’t to say we haven’t found good cascara in the past and they just weren’t products that would necessarily be considered food grade.