Have you noticed cascara on offer at your local coffee shop and you’re intrigued as to what it is? Or perhaps you’ve heard mention of it from coffee aficionados, but you can’t seem to find it on sale anywhere? We’re going to delve into this little known drink that’s quickly making a name for itself to find out what it is.
Cascara is made from the peel of the coffee fruit. It’s sold as a dried product to be made into an infusion using boiling water, much like a herbal tea. Cascara has tastes ranging from raisins and berries to floral and even tobacco notes. The word comes from the Spanish meaning skin or peel.
Coffee has been around for a long time, so why are we only just hearing about cascara now? And with concerns over its legality in Europe, is it too late to try?
What is cascara?
Cascara has been taken directly from the Spanish word cáscara which means peel, skin or rind in the context of referring to fruit.
Cascara is made from the outer skin of the coffee cherry, which is the fruit that houses what we all know as coffee beans.
When the coffee cherry fruit is picked from the plant, it undergoes a process called pulping to extract the seeds, and the outer skin is a by-product of this process. When the outer skin has been dried in the sun, it’s referred to as cascara and is ready to be made into a tea-like infusion.
After extracting the seeds from the coffee cherry, the majority of the skins are either discarded or turned into compost and used as fertilizer on the coffee farm.
Few coffee farmers process the cherries to become cascara for consumption. For those that do, the process can be as labour intensive as producing coffee, which is why so few coffee farms produce and export cascara.
Although cascara is made from the coffee cherry, it has no resemblance in taste to coffee when brewed. Despite often being referred to as a tea, cascara is technically neither coffee nor tea.
Cascara is definitely closer in flavour to what we think of as herbal tea; however, cascara is not of the Camellia sinensis plant from which tea is produced, but instead is from the fruit of the Coffea genus. Therefore, a better descriptor for cascara is a fruit tisane.
Just as with good coffee, cascara has its own range of flavour characteristics when brewed. Cascara exhibits flavours such as raisin, cherry, currants, rose hip and vanilla to name but a few.
How processing affects flavour
As with coffee, the flavour depends on how the coffee cherry was processed. Wet (washed) processing tends to result in a more acidic and floral brew. Dry (natural) processing tends to be sweeter with less acidity and has darker fruit flavours such as raisin and even earthy flavours like wood and tobacco.
Wet processed cascara is a lot more labour intensive than dry processed. The coffee beans are separated from the coffee skins by being submerged in water and undergoing a fermentation process.
The skins need to be gathered and dried rapidly in the sun to avoid mould forming. If the skins aren’t processed carefully, mold can quickly destroy an entire batch.
Wet processed cascara is easily identified as they are mostly unbroken, whole cherry skins.
Dry processing is a lot easier but not as commonly found. Dry processing coffee is as simple as leaving the cherries out in the sun to dry over a period of several weeks. Both the skins and beans dry together during this process, with the skins imparting their flavours into the beans.
To separate the beans from the skins, they are beaten, which explains why dry-processed cascara looks like broken up husks. If you enjoy dry-processed coffees for their funky flavours, definitely look out for dry-processed cascara.
Cascara isn’t a laxative
Cascara made from the coffee plant is not to be confused with Cascara Sagrada. Used for its natural laxative effect, cascara sagrada is from the genus Rhamnus purshiana, a species of buckthorn native to North America.
Cascara coffee cherry tea is in no way associated with cascara sagrada. Cascara is not a laxative, so you can enjoy your drink worry-free.
Does cascara contain caffeine?
A lot of people report that they feel highly caffeinated after drinking cascara, but does it actually contain such high amounts of caffeine?
Years ago I watched a well-known coffee expert mention that it has higher levels of caffeine than coffee. My own experience after trying cascara for the first time was that I didn’t feel much of a buzz. This led me to look into the matter a little further.
A search on Google doesn’t exactly produce a wealth of information on the subject. But one reliable source is from a test carried out by Anette Moldvaer of Square Mile Coffee in London.
A batch of Aida Batlle’s famous cascara was sent for testing to the factory in Germany where the coffee for Square Mile is decaffeinated. What were the results?
Surprisingly, we found the caffeine content to be fairly low. Even at the strongest, longest brew, the caffeine content of cascara came in at 111.4 mg/L, compared to the broad range of about 400-800 mg/L in brewed coffee.– Square Mile Blog
According to the results, cascara has only around 10 – 25% of the caffeine that coffee beans have. Quite an unexpected result. The jury’s out as to the cause of the post-cascara buzz.
If you want to read Square Mile’s full article on the subject, click here.
How to brew cascara: tisanes and syrups
Brewing a cascara drink is a simple affair. All you’ll really need is boiling water, a mug, and some sort of strainer or sieve to discard the cascara after brewing.
Ratios of cascara to water tend to be as strong as 1:10 or as weak as 1:25, depending on how you like your brew. Here’s a recipe using a ratio of 1:20 (5g per 100ml):
Step 1: Boil the water. Let the water come just off the boil by waiting 30 seconds or so.
Step 2: Add 15 grams of cascara to your brewing apparatus. A great choice is a French press because of its filter, but you can always just make it in a mug.
Step 3: Pour in 300ml of water and give it a gentle stir.
Step 4: Steep for 4 minutes. Discard the cascara. Enjoy.
If you found the brew to be a little weak, try adding more cascara on your next go. You can always play around with water temperatures and steep times, too.
If you live in the US, you may have noticed Starbucks’ new Cascara Latte which contains their own cascara syrup. You can make your own at home cheaply and easily with just water, cascara, and sugar. Here’s a simple recipe:
Step 1: Bring one and a half cups of water to the boil in a saucepan.
Step 2: Add half a cup of cascara, stir gently and reduce heat to a simmer.
Step 3: Simmer for 4 minutes. Strain the liquid and discard the cascara.
Step 4: Add the liquid back to the saucepan. Add one cup of sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer until thickened slightly, ensuring all the sugar has dissolved.
Step 5: Leave to cool. Store in a jar and keep refrigerated.
This syrup is great for adding flavour to both hot and cold drinks, or you can use it to top pancakes or waffles or any other sweet treat. Give it a go!
Legality of cascara in the UK and Europe
If you live in the UK or Europe, you may have noticed cascara’s sudden disappearance. This is because of a lack of tight regulations on the sale of it. To quote James Hoffmann of Square Mile Coffee:
“It’s not illegal, it’s just not legal yet.”
Cascara is not illegal as such as the import legislation around coffee actually covers husks and skins, probably so that coffee companies can import very low-grade coffee that inevitably includes coffee cherries amongst the batches of green beans.
However, the sale of cascara as a single product does not yet have any EU protection. It’s classed as a novel food.
Novel Food is defined as food that had not been consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before 15 May 1997.– European Commission
James Hoffmann is working with Klaus Thomsen of The Coffee Collective in Denmark to get cascara approved for sale in Europe. The problem is that the process could take some time as approval in one country in Europe does not mean approval in another.
The fear of what could happen to cascara addicts throughout Europe is highlighted in this humorous video by Roundhill Roastery in Somerset, UK.
Health benefits of coffee cherries
Cascara is reported to have eight times more antioxidants than blueberries and boasts anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial and prebiotic properties.
This has led KonaRed, a Hawaii based company in the US, to produce vitamin and antioxidant-rich health products such as juices. But it doesn’t just stop at delicious beverages.
Coffee has been picked by hand for thousands of years, and those who pick these cherries have noticeably younger-looking skin on their hands.
What was once the secret of the humble coffee picker has now led to coffee cherries being increasingly used in beauty products for the masses.
Through extensive testing, coffee cherries have been proven to be superior in neutralizing free radicals, and they’re also a stronger antioxidant than green tea, vitamin C and vitamin E.
Don’t be surprised when you see coffee cherries as a major component in your beauty products in the coming years.
Where to buy cascara (in the US)
As we’ve just seen, you’re out of luck for now if you’re reading from the UK or Europe. But if you live in North America you can still buy cascara.
If you can’t find it at your local specialty coffee shop, try online. Here are a few sites that usually stock cascara in the US:
Prices start from around $5 per 4oz to over $20 per 4oz in the US.
You can also buy ready-brewed cascara online from:
So now you’re all clued up about this trendy brew, buy yourself a bag and see what you think. Just don’t go getting yourself addicted.