What Is Cascara? Coffee’s Elusive Counterpart

Hi! My name is Arne. After a few years as a barista, I've dedicated myself to a mission: To bring more good coffee to the people. To this end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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Please allow me to peel back the fragrant layers of the coffee fruit to pose a few pressing questions. I'll start off with "What is cascara?" before asking, "How did the beautiful bean and the cascara casing break up?" And as a juicy finale, I'll explore the question of whether the two ever get back together. What follows is an exotic story as old as coffee trees, which you won’t want to miss.

Please allow me to peel back the fragrant layers of the coffee fruit to pose a few pressing questions. I’ll start off with “What is cascara?” before asking, “How did the beautiful bean and the cascara casing break up?” And as a juicy finale, I’ll explore the question of whether the two ever get back together. What follows is an exotic story as old as coffee trees, which you won’t want to miss.

What is cascara tea, beyond a by-product of coffee beans? How much caffeine does it contain? Why is the outer skin discarded or used as fertilizer after processing? Beyond the coffee plant, is the coffee cherry valued in the coffee world?

An exploration of the history and uses of cascara may surprise you. So, follow me on a discovery of coffee cherries! I give you a story of sweet synergy between the coffee bean and the dried fruit. A tale of how the two get together in a flavorful dance.

What Is Cascara?

On the whole, the fruit of the coffee plant is the coffee cherry, which contains one or two coffee beans. Coffee cherries start out green and take on a red, yellow or orange hue as they ripen. Once the coffee cherries are picked and processed, the coffee beans are separated from the outer layer.

What is cascara? It’s the fruity outer layer of the coffee cherry. Cascara is the pulp, often discarded during processing. Cascara husks contain caffeine. Yet, cascara is not made into brewed coffee and it is not an herbal tea.

Handful of Cascara

So what is cascara tea if not from a tea plant? It comes from the coffee plant, genus Coffea. Thus, cascara is a fruit, not an herb. While not a true tea, you can consider brewed cascara a tisane. Incidentally, the dried coffee cherries are a bit bigger than a tea leaf, with a woody, nutshell look.

Also known as coffee cherry tea, cascara is often packaged like coffee beans. What’s more, the price per pound of high quality cascara is comparable to that of premium coffee beans.

How Is Cascara Made?

Cascara is the Spanish word for “husk,” “peel” or “skin.” Although coffee cherry tea is still relatively unknown in this country, it’s been enjoyed in other countries for centuries.

Known as sultana in Bolivia, hashara in Ethiopia and qishr in Yemen, the secret was out long ago. Brewed with cinnamon sticks, ginger root and nutmeg, cascara is a coffee alternative. Not since learning the history of Ethiopian coffee have we been so captivated by an origin story!

So who is credited with the current cascara craze? A fifth-generation coffee grower from El Salvador named Aida Batlle, that’s who. As early as 2005, she noticed the aromatic hibiscus scent lingering in the air at a coffee cupping. The fragrance emanated from the cherry skins of milled coffee.

The coffee processing method makes a difference to what kind of cascara you’ll get. During natural processing, the dried cherry husk is whole, then milled. The resulting cascara tea  forms fine flakes, kind of like traditional tea.

In wet processing, the coffee husk is washed before drying, and the cascara dries like a raisin. Interestingly, dried cherry skins plump up during brewing to reveal the shape of the coffee cherry. Plus, some of the caffeine content is retained in the husks.

Most coffee in South America is processed by washing the coffee beans. This is the wet method of producing cascara tea. On some Bolivian farms, the coffee plants are grown alongside citrus trees, at over 1500 meters above sea level. I’m telling you, this is where fruity highlights are made. The cascara harvested here is not a by-product to compost; it’s a delicacy!

How Much Caffeine is in Cascara?

Containing lower caffeine content than the coffee bean, cascara still boasts a bit of a kick. The ratio of cascara to hot water has the most impact on the caffeine content in your cup.

Oh, and steep time appears to make little difference. At its strongest, coffee cherry tea actually has fairly low caffeine levels. As a reference, it contains only one-eighth to one-quarter of the caffeine content of brewed coffee.

What Does Cascara Taste Like?

A tea made from coffee, you ask? OK, but what is cascara tea going to taste like? Cascara is a coffee cherry tea defined by its exotic flavor profile. Some say high quality cascara boasts a sweet and fruity taste.

Others say cascara tastes earthier, pointing out notes of brown sugar and maple. I doubt you can go wrong with this flavor profile! In fact, naturally processed cascara, when steeped, needs no extra sweetener or enhancers.

Low in caffeine, cascara is a rich and sweet dried fruit delight in a cup. Incidentally, its flavor profile depends on the region in which it’s grown. Delightful highlights of cherry, mango, plum or apple are common. More exotic are elderflower, rose hip, hibiscus or red currant profiles.

How to Brew Cascara

Café con hielo y limón

Have I whetted your appetite to drink cascara? In a nutshell, if you’ve brewed tea before, you can brew cascara!

Ground cherry husks only need 2-3 minutes to produce a rich brew. Coarser chunks of dried cascara will be ready in 4-6 minutes. If you haven’t got a thermometer, you can bet that the hot water is ready when your stovetop kettle starts making some noise.

Anyway, here are the simple steps for a hot cup of rich, sweet cascara tea:

  • Use 5 g of cascara per 8.5 oz (250 ml) hot water

  • Brew for 4 minutes in a French press

  • Stir 3 times

  • Wait an extra 3 minutes

  • Serve immediately

If you’re anything like me, you’ll use any excuse to add extra flavor to your beverage. That’s why I’ve come up with a couple of cascara brewing hacks to make things more interesting!

Spiced Cascara Tea

Cascara Tea

A couple of simple additions can take cascara tea to the next level. Here’s what you’ll need for this sweet and spicy brew:

  • 5 g cascara husks

  • 8.5 oz (250 ml) water

  • Cup and a strainer or teapot

  • Cinnamon

  • Honey

Bring your water to a boil and pour over the cascara husks in a strainer. If the husks are slim pieces, brew for 3 minutes. However, if the cascara is in whole dried husks, brew for 5 minutes. Strain into your cup, top with cinnamon and add honey to taste. Enjoy!

Cascara Cold Brew

Does cascara offer a new drink for summer? Iced cascara is tangy and sweet in flavor. A cool beverage with a caffeine kick.

  • 10 g cascara husks

  • 8.5 oz (250 ml) water

  • 9 oz (250 g) ice

  • French press

  • Cup

Bring your water to a boil and pour over cascara husks in a French press. Then, let it steep for a few minutes before plunging. Lastly, pour over ice in a cup for a refreshing chilled beverage. Enjoy!

The key here is to increase the flavor concentration by doubling your cascara husks. Thus, you can dilute the brew with ice without watering down the tangy, sweet yumminess.

Cascara Coffee

Now presenting: cascara as a compliment to your espresso! Do you know that your local Starbucks secret menu boasts cascara coffee? What about cascara syrup as a topping? Their cascara latte is coffee-based with an added maple-like simple syrup.

If you’re feeling adventurous like I am, you can brew your own dirty cascara latte.  It’s kind of like a dirty chai latte, but you’ll switch out the black tea for brewed cascara tea. Utilizing all parts of the coffee fruit brings forth a complexity of flavor profiles. Cascara tea notes of brown sugar and maple compliment espresso in ways you’ll have to try yourself!

After all the drama of breaking up during processing, hear this: coffee and cascara are getting back together! They are debuting together in the same cup, as a specialty coffee concoction! Even juicier is their cascara simple syrup infusion. So, join me in celebrating this flavorful, synergistic reunion!

The Bottom Line

From Verve Coffee Roasters in Los Angeles to Melbourne Coffee Merchants in Australia, the delight and delicacy of dried coffee cherries is sweeping the globe.

The popularity of high quality cascara tea offers environmental solutions. I’m talking about the potential to decrease the carbon footprint of coffee farms. Plus, cherry husks can become a valuable up-cycled food product for producers and consumers.

Herein lies a pathway for coffee farmers to generate new revenue streams. All the while, decreasing costs and improving crop yields.

Has this fascinating tale unlocked some exotic coffee secrets for you? I do hope so. I look forward to continuing our cascara exploration via your comments below!

FAQ: What Is Cascara? 

Cascara is no longer banned in the EU as of 2021.

Cascara tea displays a spectrum of fruit highlights and maple tones.

Cascara is made from the dried cherry skins or outer skin of the coffee bean.

Starbucks makes a cascara latte with cascara syrup.

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