What is Cascara?
Have you heard of this new drink, cascara? Technically, it’s not that new. It’s been around for a long time in places like Africa, the Middle East, and South America, but to the rest of the world, the drink is pretty fresh on the scene.
So, exactly what is cascara, then? Let’s jump in and find out!
What is Cascara?
First off, let me make a disclaimer here: we’re not talking about the laxative Cascara Sagrada here. That stuff serves a very… different purpose. Let’s just leave it at that. We’re talking about cascara, also known as “coffee cherry tea”.
The word cascara is Spanish for “husk” or “skin”, which here refers to the pulpy outer skin of the coffee cherry that covers the bean while it’s on the plant. Once harvested, the beans are processed through a wet or dry method, each producing two different versions of coffee bean husks, or cascara. After they have been processed, the husks are then steeped in hot water to make a sort of “tea”.
NOTE: Check out this recipe if you’re interested in another sweet, Spanish-inspired coffee beverage!
Dry Processed Cascara
Dry processing is a common form of coffee cherry processing where the beans are simply left out to dry. And when the coffee beans are dry processed, the husks are dried right along with them.
Once the process is finished, the shells and the beans are separated, and the cascara is ready to go. This cascara usually looks a bit broken up, as the shells are often beaten in this method.
Now, while the dry processing method is popular for the coffee beans themselves, this option is not usually chosen for making cascara. So, if you can get your hands on some, cherish it!
Wet Processed Cascara
Things can get a little bit dicier for the cascara when the coffee beans are wet processed. In this method, the beans are typically submerged in water and separated from their skins via fermentation or active scrubbing. Usually, this part ends with the empty shells being thrown away or used for compost, but not so when you’re making cascara.
In that case, the husks need to be quickly gathered and painstakingly dried. This delicate process has to be micromanaged for days, primarily to prevent any mold from developing, as it can ruin an entire batch. Wet processed cascara usually looks whole – almost like small wood chips – as the skins are squeezed rather than beaten during processing.
Note: If you’re interested in learning more about how coffee is processed in general, check out this article here!
Cascara Coffee… Or Tea?
I’m going to come right out and make one thing clear: cascara is not a tea, despite it being brewed in a similar way. All true tea comes from Camellia sinensis, the scientific term for the tea plant (1).
The simple answer is yes, there is caffeine in teas made from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. (Herbal infusions and rooibos are not produced from Camellia sinensis, and they generally do not contain caffeine.) - Tea Leaf Journal
So since cascara is only prepared in the same way as tea, but it is not tea, it leaves us with the question: is cascara coffee?
When you boil it down (but please, don’t literally boil it!), cascara is a coffee by-product prepared and steeped like tea. It’s a category all its own!
The Caffeine Factor
Does cascara have caffeine? From what I could find (there has been very little testing done thus far), cascara does have caffeine, but only about a quarter to an eighth (2) of the amount that you’d get in coffee.
My guess is that when brewing it like tea, you’re just not extracting the caffeine the same way you do with traditional ground coffee.
That Wonderful Cascara Taste
So, what does cascara taste like, then? Think of it as something between coffee and tea, with a sweet and fruity taste.
While the dry method usually produces a fruitier, stronger, and fuller flavor – much like dry processed coffee beans – wet processed cascara delivers a much brighter flavor profile.
How to Drink Cascara
To make cascara, all you need to do is measure out the shells and hot water at a ratio of 1 tablespoon of cascara for every cup of hot water. Let it steep for 4 minutes or so. Make sure the water is hot, NOT boiling. As with many teas, you can burn the drink if it’s too hot.
Note: Look for that wisp of steam coming out of the kettle. When you see that, the water should be a good temperature.
If you want a visual, check out this video on how to make cascara!
Feel free to adjust your personal preferences from there! Try adding ginger, cinnamon, or nutmeg and, if you have a sweet tooth, you can add sugar or honey, too.
Wondering Where to Buy Cascara?
You can easily find dried coffee cherries for sale online. When you have your shipment and are brewing up a cup, consider making some homemade cascara syrup (3), too. A great addition to a coffee cocktail, cascara syrup tastes like the drink, bringing that overtone of fruit and sweetness to your glass.
So, What is Cascara?
Cascara. It’s the indefinable drink made by drying coffee cherry husks and then brewing them like a cup of tea. If you’re going to try this stuff out, we need to connect. It’s just too interesting to keep to yourself!
Do you think it’s better or worse than coffee? Better or worse than tea? Comment below and share your thoughts!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is coffee fruit edible?
Yes, coffee fruit is edible. Its flavor is described as reminiscent of other red fruits, such as raspberry, currant, cranberry, cherry, and raisin. Sounds like the perfect thing to make jam and serve on toast with your morning cuppa!
Are coffee cherries healthy to eat?
Yes, coffee cherries are healthy to eat. In fact, they are an excellent source of antioxidants (like so many other berries) as well as polyphenols and brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNFs). Some people go so far as to call coffee cherries "the wasted superfood."
What does cascara syrup taste like?
Cascara syrup tastes like a combination of fruits and other elements: rose hips, hibiscus flower, red currant, mango, and some even detect a hint of tobacco. It is also described as having a cherry-brown sugar flavor. If you're thinking this sounds like a great ingredient in summertime cocktails, we have to agree.
- Caffeine in Tea. (n.d.). Retrieved June 1, 2019, from http://www.tealeafjournal.com/caffeine-in-tea.html
- Cascara and caffeine. (2015, December 14). Retrieved June 1, 2019, from https://www.squaremileblog.com/2013/08/30/cascara-and-caffeine/
- Tomlinson, A. (2016, April 29). Cascara Simple Syrup. Retrieved June 1, 2019, from https://www.thelittleblackcoffeecup.com/journal/cascarasyrup