While Elaina Downey and Cherylea Browne’s Australian-made, cacao-husk teas might be new to the market, the history of the beverage goes way back. Steeping the outer shell of the cacao bean – which is considered a waste product despite it being a rich source of antioxidants, potassium and magnesium – has provided caffeine-free energy boosts for centuries. It a process practised by South American civilisations.
“Cacao grows in Australia and it’s a really young industry,” says Downey. “So I just started calling different plantations. They had no idea why I was calling them.”
The pair – one a matchmaker, one a university lecturer and, together, “best friends since 1991” – were both stricken with rare and restrictive autoimmune and neurological conditions around the same time, and were forced to find alternatives to coffee and sweets.
“One night, we were talking about what we wanted to have for dessert. But I couldn’t have what she wanted and she couldn’t have what I wanted, so we ended up having a cup of tea,” Downey says. “There’re so many unnecessary ingredients that prolong the life of a product; we wanted to create something that’s completely preservative-free.”
Sourcing cacao husks from Australian "tree to bar" plantation Charley's Chocolate Factory, the girls created decaffeinated tisanes with unique flavour profiles. The Husk Mill’s current range (made in small batches from the pair’s base in Newtown) features three tisane varieties: original cacao; a strong cinnamon and cardamom chai; and coconut. The teas are currently available at the Sydney Sorry Thanks I Love You pop-up, and the Brewery Yard Markets. Brewing times vary, but are generally around the six-to-seven-minute mark; Downey and Browne recommend trying the teas black, as well as with a dash of milk and sweetener.
“A lot of initial responses are of trepidation. People think that there must be flavouring in there, but it’s totally natural,” Downey says. “It’s an alternative to green tea (with the antioxidant content) and hot chocolate.”
“It also has theobromine, but not the harsh peak and crash of caffeine. It’s a more sustained release. It releases endorphins,” says Browne. “You don’t have to feel guilty, and there is no sugar.”