Kishr: A Tea Made From Coffee

This ancient beverage from Yemen is making its way over to the US


You might not consider a drink that comes from products of the coffee plant to be tea, exactly. You might be inclined to keep those two hot, caffeinated beverages in separate categories so as to mollify the organizational tics in the back of your mind. Maybe you're even the kind of person who gets ever so slightly miffed when someone considers herbal tea like chamomile to be included in the same category as darjeeling or earl grey. If you happen to be a beverage purist, kishr will probably unsettle your preconceptions a little. It's a drink that's arguably both tea and coffee at the same time--and also neither of those things.

Kishr is made from the parts of the coffee plant that are left over when you harvest the beans. The beans--the part that makes up the most popular caffeinated drink worldwide--are taken out of coffee cherries, or the fruit of the plant. The remaining husks--which are typically discarded in coffee production--are then sun-dried and ground into a fine powder along with cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger to make kishr. 

The naming confusion only really comes when you try to frame the drink in American terms. In its native Yemen, kishr is just kishr-- its very own category. It's drunk hot and has a strong, spicy flavor, a bit like chai or the more pungent of herbal teas. So far, it has not yet found an American market. One Chicago entrepreneur, though, is looking to change that.

Rowida Assalimy was born in Kansas, not Yemen, but grew up drinking kishr when her parents would bring the beverage back from their home country. Once she left her parents' house, she found herself unable to purchase the drink anywhere in the country. Upon beginning business school at the University of Chicago, Assalimy decided to go ahead and become the first person to sell kishr in the states. She buys her coffee cherry husks from farmers in Yemen's Haraz mountains. She's already begun to make a few changes to help increase sales of the ancient beverage. While kishr is traditionally brewed in powder form, Assalimy thinks American consumers will react better to the looks of a courser substance. She'll also tone down the spices in the drink in order to appeal to a more Western palate. And she'll market kishr as tea, not coffee--"coffee cherry," she thinks, will just make people think of a cherry-flavored espresso drink. 

Thanks to Assalimy, you can now buy kishr at the local grocery store Goddess and Grocer at 1646 North Damen Avenue. If the drink catches on in Chicago, we might just be seeing kishr marketed all over the country soon. 

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