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From fruit peels to fragrant beverage: NCNU uncovers the secrets of coffee cherry tea 

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National Chi Nan University's USR Hub has developed a tidy new caffeinated drink by upcycling the flesh of the coffee fruit, which was previously discarded as industrial waste. This byproduct of the coffee sector's bean-focused manufacturing can, in fact, be used to make a fragrant and stimulating beverage. Known in Spanish as Cascara, meaning “skin” or “membrane,” coffee cherry tea is made by brewing sun-dried coffee peels — whole berry husks that puff up like little cherries upon re-encountering water.

Up to two-fifths of a coffee bean is disposed of as waste. Traditional coffee plantations cover about 1,200 hectares of arable land in Taiwan, producing 6,000 metric tons of fresh fruit per year. The discarded coffee cherries weigh 2,400 metric tons, generating disposal issues for farmers and emissions harmful to the environment. 

Research on coffee cherries began as part of a university social responsibility (USR) project overseen by NCNU's College of Management. Professor Cheng Jen-son (鄭健雄) of the Department of Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management led a team in using pesticide-free coffee grown with organic fertilizer. The resulting beverage is delectable with a hint of white sugarcane fragrance.

Cheng explained that this new product contains 12 to 25% the amount of caffeine as coffee beans, with high levels of anti-oxidants and none of the bitterness associated with regular coffee. In fact, coffee cherry tea is named so because of its tea-like smoothness and floral notes — a perfect cold brew for sampling coffee flavors with an afternoon spread of snacks and treats.

NCNU President Dr. Dong-sing Wuu (武東星) elaborated on this USR project, noting that the scope of university research being conducted on coffee encompasses agricultural and manufacturing advancements, as well as new developments in marketing and sales. Theories abound from coffee species and blends, plantation management, and roasting to quality evaluation. Nantou's conversion of conventional biowaste to boutique beverage by sun-drying premium coffee cherries is another cherished moment on Taiwan's journey to a sustainable future.

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