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Coffee Cherries For Cascara

The Zest Blog - by Mandy Delvecchio

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Coffee, tea, or me - Cascara?

Yeah, but what is Cascara?

Specialty coffee lovers may have noticed, and possibly even tasted cascara – it’s been making the rounds for a few years now. While not quite as Insta-famous as turmeric lattes or the mighty matcha, this coffee/tea alternative is out there and already quite popular, so it’s worth learning a little about…

It has been on my radar, but possibly like for many of you, it is still a fairly new product to me so I had a look into it and discovered some interesting facts about cascara.

Cascara is a brewed beverage made from the husks, or pulp of the coffee cherry. Sometimes referred to as ‘coffee cherry tea’, cascara is not a tea. Nor is it coffee. But you’d be forgiven for imagining it is either.

‘Coffee cherry tea’ has actually been brewed and enjoyed in many countries for hundreds of years – some say maybe even longer than the coffee drink we know, brewed from the roasted coffee bean, in fact.

According to legend, an Ethiopian herdsman discovered coffee organically whilst making a caffeinated tea (cascara) out of the coffee fruit – he is said to have then discovered the power of the bean and the rest is history.

‘Coffee cherry tea’ (or cascara) has been consumed in Ethiopia (steeped with spice, otherwise known as ‘hashara’), Yemen (adding ginger and cinnamon,otherwise known as ‘qishr’) and Bolivia (under the traditional name of sultana) ever since. 

While the coffee drink we are most familiar with– that gorgeous, complex, caffeinated brew that gives us a kick and a hug every morning – is also extracted from the coffee cherry, same as cascara, our familiar coffee drink uses the bean (or seed) of the coffee fruit, where cascara uses the rest. The ‘rest’ – the pulp/husks/skins – when brewed in water, similar to tea, produces a sweet, fruity drink – with considerably less caffeine to coffee (about 12-25% of the caffeine content of coffee).

Cascara – pronounced kass-car-ah – is a Spanish word meaning ‘husk’.

Not strictly a tea, because it uses pulp from the genus coffea, rather than the camellia sinensus plant used for tea. A good comparison for cascara is to herbal tea, however, still not strictly a herbal tea, as it uses a fruit rather than a leaf. Perhaps the best way to describe it is as a fruit tisane – because like tea, it does contain tisanes.

So now we know what it is not – it is not coffee and it is not tea – what can we say about what it actually is?

It is actually a warm or cold drink brewed from the coffee cherry.

It is actually very tasty – fruity, sweet and complex, yet mild – with a flavour of plums and cherries with notes of spice and figs.

It is actually a drink that carries historical value – being consumed in Ethiopia and Yemen by coffee farmers and communities for centuries.

But there’s more, consuming cascara helps farmers and the planet.

Cascara is an environmentally sustainable product. The pulp from the coffee cherry, once the bean has been removed, is often discarded; sometimes used as compost, sometimes just waste. With the consumption of cascara, or ‘coffee cherry ‘ the industry is cutting down on waste production, thus generating more sustainable practices in the chain.

The popularity and wider consumption of cascara has a great effect on the industry. With demand comes supply, and supply of sustainable products like cascara not only reduces waste, having a positive impact on the environment, but also generates a greater income for farmers, thus sustaining the industry itself. And that’s something we all want, ammiright?

'Coffee Cherry Tea'

So, that’s cascara, in a nutshell, or – ahem – coffee shell.

Perhaps now you know a little more about it – and have possibly grown a curiosity for the brew – you can ask your local merchant or barista about cascara and hopefully get your hands around a warm cup of it.

For now, at least, you know about cascara, and your specialty coffee knowledge is verging on impressive levels. You’re welcome.