Appropriately named, cascara means skin, husk or shell in Spanish. When we talk about cascara we are referring to the cherry jacket that surrounds the coffee bean. The coffee cherry is the fruiting portion of the species classified as genus Coffea.
Inside the cherry, you guessed it, the coffee bean.
Cascara has traditionally been treated as a by-product of the coffee industry. In most cases the cherry is repurposed as fertilizer or even fuel. In Ethiopia however, cascara is dried in the sun and brewed as a delicious tea. In Bolivia cascara is referred to as the "poor man's coffee" or the "coffee of the army" where they use sun-dried cherry skins to make tea and often serve it with a cinnamon stick. Sounds nice!
Cascara is said to contain roughly a quarter of the caffeine level of coffee. It's also important not to confuse cascara with cascara sagrada, which is typically used as a powerful plant-based laxative.
You've been warned.
Cascara has earned some fame recently as Starbucks introduced it as a menu item in the early part of 2017. The Starbucks version is sweetened with artificial sweeteners which really doesn't do justice to the unique and subtle flavors of the coffee cherry.
The proper way to prepare cascara is to treat it like a tea. Steeping the dried cherry skins in hot water releases the natural fruity aromas of the coffee cherry. It's important to note cascara tea doesn't taste, smell or look like coffee. The end result is a lightly colored ruby liquid that delivers a woodsy, hibiscus-like tea flavor with hints of cherry and tobacco.
A French Press is commonly used for brewing cascara. Generally speaking you want to use 1 or 2 heaping tablespoons per 8 ounces of water. Obviously, adjust to your liking. It's not uncommon to add ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and other spices to mix things up a bit.
Cascara tea makes an excellent cold brew beverage as well. Either brew as you normally would and serve over ice or use a cold brew coffee pot and steep it in the fridge overnight.
Qishr is a popular cascara beverage in Yemen. In this version you greatly amp up the flavor and aroma of the tea by adding spices and honey.
1/2 cup dried cascara
2 cups water
1 tsp grated ginger (or dried)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon caraway
1/4 teaspoon star anise
honey to taste
Assemble all the ingredients in a stovetop pot and add the water. Bring it to a boil, reduce to simmering and let it meditate for about 6 minutes. Remove, strain and serve.
If you get your hands on some cascara we would love to hear what you think. Send us your recipes and photos for a chance to win a custom illustrated Herb & Coffee Legends t-shirt. As always, thanks for reading!
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