What is Cascara and Why do we Use it?

What is Cascara

The specialty coffee and tea industry have experienced a lot of change in the last couple of years. Demand for the high-quality single-origin coffee beans and exotic varieties of tea is on the rise.  Right at the intersection of these two comes Cascara.

Although, it is a product of a coffee tree its taste is much more similar to some exotic tea. In this article, we are going to demystify this new beverage and to answer the most important questions surrounding it: What is cascara? What are the cascara tea health benefits? How to prepare tea and cascara soda?

Cascara and Similar Beverages

Many curious coffee enthusiasts ask what Cascara really is. Firstly, we must see a difference between this beverage and similar brews. Many people think that Cascara is related to Cascara Sagrada which is also known as Cascara tree or shrub.

This plant, also known as Rhamnus purishana is actually a large shrub or small tree which is native to western North America.

Also, many people think of this drink as tea because of the way that is prepared. Because cascara comes from the genus Coffea instead of the Camellia sinensis plant, it can’t be classified as a true tea.

Cascara isn’t also what many people imagine herbal tea is, as cascara is made from fruit rather than a herb. However, there are many tisanes made from fruit, so this may be the best category to put cascara in.

So What is Cascara Actually?

Cascara which means husk or peel in Spanish is  the dried skins of coffee cherries. To get coffee, beans are separated from cherries through a process called pulping, then roasted and ground. After this process, cherries are usually discarded or turned into compost and used as a fertilizer.

Coffee cherry tea may be a new drink for westerners, but it is prepared for a long time in some parts of the world. In Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, for centuries the cherries have been dried and brewed into a beverage called Quishr. Coffee farmers in Yemen and Ethiopia have been drinking this beverage longer than coffee. In these countries, the dried cherry is often steeped along with spices such as ginger, nutmeg or cinnamon. In fact, this drink is often more consumed in Yemen than regular coffee, as it is less expensive. As coffee shrubs were planted by Europeans in Central and South America, the dried coffee cherries became referred to as cascara- or “husk” in Spanish.

How Cascara is Manufactured?

There are two ways to get cascara and each one will give the brew a slightly different taste. This depends on how coffee is processed. There are two ways to process coffee

  1. Wet process
  2. Dry Process also is known as “natural method”

The Wet Process:

On the same day, coffee is harvested the beans pass through four phases

  1. Sorting beans and removing unripened beans
  2. Passing through a depulper which removes the skins from the beans
  3. Removing defected beans
  4. And finally, beans go through a machine called demucilager which washes them of slime or “mucilage”. After this process beans are ready for drying.

The depulped skins are used to make compost which is later used as organic fertilizer. But to get cascara, the skins have to be carefully dried to protect them from the mold. The drying process is the most important and the first week is particularly delicate. One has to be extremely vigilant to avoid mold which skins could easily develop and ruin the whole batch.

The Dry Process:

In this process, beans don’t go through the machines as they go in the wet process. Beans have to be dried very carefully to avoid mold. Once the hulled skins from the Dry Process are collected they are ready to go.

Differences in Product Between Dry and Wet Processes

The difference is clearly visible in the appearance and taste of the drink between the cascara that was dry processed and cascara that was wet-processed.

What is Cascara

During a wet process, the skins are squeezed, resulting in more whole husks, unlike during the dry process where skins are beaten resulting in more broken down husks.

The most important difference is in the taste of wet and dry processed cascara. The dry processed cherries tend to have a stronger and more fruity flavor, whereas the wet-processed will usually result in a brighter beverage with a lighter taste.

How is Cascara Prepared?

Cascara is made by steeping the dried coffee cherries in hot water. Because this beverage is relatively new there is no exact recipe. Most manufacturers recommend using a tablespoon or two, five to seven grams, per one cup of water just off the boil. Be careful not to cover the cherries with boiling water, because you will burn it. After covering cascara with hot water let it steep for 3-4 minutes. While this beverage is naturally sweet, some people add sugar or honey. It is not uncommon to add ginger, nutmeg or cinnamon to the drink similarly to historic drink made in Ethiopia.

This tea can also be cold brewed and served as an ice tea. Many coffee shops prepare Cascara soda. They make syrup from coffee cherries and mix it with sparkling water which results in a refreshing summer drink.

Caffeine Content

Like coffee beans, coffee cherry tea contains caffeine. However, the caffeine content in coffee cherry tea is fairly low, it is approximately 25% of the caffeine content of coffee made from Arabica coffee beans. Even at the strongest and the longest brew, caffeine content came in at 110 mg /L compared to 400-800 mg/L in brewed coffee.

Where to Buy Cascara?

When buying cascara for cherry tea, be careful not to replace it with cascara sagrada, or Rhamnus purishana. While having similar names cascara sagrada is the dried tree bark from the California buckthorn tree and it has laxative properties. Although it remains rare, it can be purchased in several roasteries in the United States, Europe, and Australia.

Health Benefits

Coffee cherry tea is packed with antioxidants, specifically polyphenols. Studies suggest that long term consumption of food rich in polyphenols may offer protection against the development of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease.

Side Effects

Consuming any beverage with caffeine may produce side effects in some people. These side effects include an increased heartbeat, palpitations, restlessness, problems with sleep. However, caffeine amount in coffee cherry tea being lower than in a cup of coffee, it is not likely to produce any of these side effects.

Conclusion

Cascara is still relatively new to western coffee lovers, even though it has been consumed for centuries in coffee-growing regions.  Whether brewed hot or cold, it’s a new way to enjoy a plant that we all grew fond of.

With amazing taste and its health benefits, this interesting beverage will find a way to hearts of specialty coffee enthusiasts.

Ivan is a 24-year old graphic design and computer science student from Serbia who loves driving motorcycle in his free time and is absolutely obsessed with nature, sports and hanging out with friends.

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