Most of us know that coffee comes from a cherry. The coffee bean is extracted from the fruit and the fruit pulp and skin are usually discarded. The discarded peels and pulp are commonly used as compost or simply dumped, causing massive amounts of waste.
What if there was a way to reduce this wastage while giving consumers a refreshing new drink? Enter cascara coffee or coffee cherry tea. Cascara ‘tea’ may be new on the radar for many coffee lovers but it’s been a popular drink in coffee-producing countries for centuries. As the coffee industry shifts its focus towards sustainability and eco-friendly solutions, cascara coffee has gained popularity across the globe with major chains including cascara brews on their menu.
What Is Cascara?
Cascara, meaning ‘shell’ or ‘husk’ in Spanish, refers to the dried peels of coffee cherries that can be brewed to make a tea. Cascara isn’t exactly coffee, more akin to a herbal tea. Like most herbal teas, brewing involves steeping the dried peels in hot water to create an infusion.
Cascara has been popular in many coffee-growing countries particularly Bolivia, Ethiopia, Yemen (where it’s called Qishr), and Somalia. In Bolivia, cascara is made from roasted, sun-dried coffee cherries and sometimes brewed with a stick of cinnamon while it’s reported that cascara may have been drunk in Yemen before actual coffee become popular.
Cascara is more like black tea in terms of caffeine content and strength, with a fruity, light taste. Cascara walks a fine line between coffee and tea: it’s not really coffee, but it can’t be called a tea either.
Cascara shouldn’t be confused with cascara sagrada which is derived from a completely different plant and is used as a medicine.
How Is Cascara Made?
Usually, coffee beans are extracted from the coffee cherry, leaving behind the fruit pulp and skin. These pulp and peel are either composted or thrown away as waste. To make cascara, these peels and pulp are collected and processed.
After removing the beans, the leftover cherries are collected and dried in the sun. Once dried, the cherries become leathery and woody in appearance. This is packaged and sold as cascara. Not only does this reduce wastage on farms, but it’s also a completely eco-friendly method of processing.
How Do You Brew Cascara?
Making cascara or coffee cherry tea is simple: simply immerse the dried coffee cherries in hot water. There isn’t a set recipe for it but it’s recommended to use about 5-7g or about 1-2 heaping tablespoons in one cup or 8oz of water.
The recommended brew time ranges from 4 to 7 minutes and this produces a dark red tea. Cascara is described as tasting light, sweet, and fruity with notes of rose, cherry, red currant, and hibiscus. It’s fairly sweet so it can be served with or without a sweetener. Cascara can be enhanced with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger for a quick take on the traditional cascara.
Cascara can also be served chilled, as an iced tea. For cold cascara, brew it similar to cold coffee by adding about 6 tablespoons of cascara to 10oz of water and letting it steep overnight in the refrigerator.
Should You Try Cascara?
Definitely! Cascara may not replace your daily coffee but it’s a great alternative to refresh your palate and helps you learn more about the coffee you drink. Its sweet, cherry-like taste and low caffeine content make it great for an afternoon or late evening drink, especially in the summers and when you don’t want to disrupt your sleep by drinking strong coffee.
Cascara gives you a way to familiarize yourself with the whole coffee fruit- you already know what the beans taste like, so why not try out the rest of the fruit? By processing the whole fruit, we can help promote better growing standards and organic farming. Cascara is also a way to push for sustainability in coffee by reducing waste and promoting maximum utilization of the coffee cherry.
Cascara coffee is still hard to purchase in much of America and Europe but rising demand has led to its inclusion on the menus of major coffee chains as well as smaller cafes and coffee chains. If you do get your hands on some cascara, give it a shot and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.