Opening on 18 September, Colombian coffee shop Devoción‘s new Cascara Bar—an inherently different offering than their existing coffee shops—will put the fruit (rather than the bean) front and center. Instead of dismissing it as a byproduct of the process of extracting the virgin, green seed (which is eventually roasted, ground and brewed to produce coffee), the brand emphasizes cascara’s natural flavors—ranging from sweet and molasses-like to slightly roasted and reminiscent of espresso—through dedicated beverages.
“This [the Cascara Bar] is a way to emphasize freshness. We’re actually grabbing the fresh coffee cherry and extracting the pulp to make something out of it,” Steve Sutton, the brand’s founder, says. “In this industry, when we think of freshness, people think of the roasted coffee. But it’s a fruit—that’d be like me saying the freshness of your food is based on when you cook it. Everybody is emphasizing how fast it’s cooked but everybody’s coffee is old—from six months to a year—and that’s insane.”
For other cascara-users, the fruit is picked, the harvest assessed, and then sun-dried. Once dry, the green seed proves easier to pick and the husk more definable for sorting. This dried husk is discarded or sourced to these other shops interested in crafting a cascara-centric drink of their own. But, as Sutton points out, their cascara, at this point, isn’t pressable. “All other cascara products are more tea-like,” he says. “The problem with this is that they are using essentially the skin of the fruit, so it lacks the sweetness and the vast majority of the antioxidants.”
“We want people to know that this is a fruit—and you should grab it and serve it when it’s fresh,” he says. “For us, it starts with a cold press. We use the fresh cherry. We take out a little bit of water and we transport it immediately. It’s a patented process. It doesn’t burn anything out, it doesn’t kill anything. The antioxidant level is extremely high; it’s more antioxidants than a green tea or than a pomegranate.”
The cold pressed cascara cherry forms a molasses-like syrup that can be added to almost anything. It imparts a unique sweetness and proves similar enough to appease coffee lovers but distant enough to attract tea drinkers.
“The coffee cherry has notes of tamarind, cherry and prune,” Sutton says. “There’s also a bit of maltiness.” The final, pourable product gets stored in kegs and put on tap and pours like nitro cold brew—with exponentially more flavor. Introverted by nature, the cascara cherry flavor blossoms when other natural flavors are added. A cassia lime-ladened iteration tastes quite a bit like Coca Cola, but far richer. The ginger lime version lends warmth without a citric bite—and it’s delightful.
“At the beginning, we didn’t know what to do with it,” Sutton says. “It’s such a strong superfruit. The first thing you think is: should we put this in a capsule? But the flavor is important.”
He remembers the first time they tasted their creation. It was just prior to one of New York’s larger coffee shows and they needed to formulate a way to serve the thick, syrup-like invention. “We thought we’d just let people spoon it out or put it in their coffee,” he says. He knew that at this time, “Nobody has ever actually seen this and we thought why don’t we just show it and let people figure it out. But, I don’t remember if it was mine or somebody else’s, there was a Pellegrino and I remember adding it and mixing it in. And it was amazing, oh my god, it was insane. It was so delicious on its own.”
That a-ha moment encouraged the brand to put sparkling cascara on the menu in a few of their shops—with little notice and almost no marketing. It was popular for a while but then it exploded. “People would taste it and go ‘Oh, this is amazing!’ and that started the whole movement,” Sutton tells CH. The new shop, located at 121 E 27th St in Manhattan, expands upon the original idea by offering four cascara beverages, cascara ice cream, affogatos and floats. Plus, coffee shop staples like espresso, drip coffee and cold brew. Our favorite, the affogato, combines the fruitiness of the cascara and the rich, nutty notes of the espresso to deliver an almost cyclical experience.
100% of the proceeds from the shop’s first week—they’ll operate on a pay-what-you-want basis from Wednesday to Wednesday—go back to a lab in an underserved Colombian public school. They believe, by emphasizing the value and sheer rareness of their export and convincing farmers to cherish the fruit too, they can lift farmers out of hardship and retain younger generations.
“We’re going back to do a post-harvest lab in a local public school in Gacheta, Cundinamrca,” Sutton says. “We want to give education of specialty coffee to the community, starting with the schools’s students.”
Images by Evan Malachosky