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Cascara (a.k.a. coffee cherry tea) is something that is picking up steam in the craft coffee world. A few years ago, I would hear some mentions of it here or there but would have had to actively search if I wanted to find some (let alone a recipe for brewing it up). These days, I see cascara in many coffee shops and online roasters. If you have questions about this trending fruit tea, here is an informational and brewing guide.
What is Cascara?
A brief history
Coffee is the seed of a fleshy, cherry-like fruit that grown primarily between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn (you can read more about green coffee here). In most cases, the flesh of the coffee cherry is removed and discarded during coffee processing. This discarded flesh from coffee processing can be a nuisance and can even create a pollution problem if it is not dealt with properly.
WARNING: Do not confuse cascara made from coffee cherries with Cascara Sagrada. Cascara Sagrada (sacred bark) is the dried bark of the cascara buckthorn plant that grows in the Pacific Northwest. It has an extremely bitter taste (allegedly) and is known for its laxative properties.
Traditional consumption of coffee cherry tea is thought to be even older than roasting the coffee seeds (beans). Legend has it that coffee was discovered by an Ethiopian herdsman (Kaldi) and his goats. He began making a caffeinated tea out of the fruit (which eventually morphed into roasting the seeds themselves). A drink made from the coffee fruit has been consumed in Yemen (called qishr*) and Ethopia (called hashara) ever since. Cascara is also consumed in Bolivia under the traditional name of sultana.
The credit for the recent rise of cascara’s popularity has been given to Aida Batlle, a renowned coffee grower from El Salvador. It is said that during a cupping, Batlle made an infusion out of some discarded coffee cherries and coined the phrase cascara (which means skin or husk in Spanish) because coffee pulp wasn’t a very marketable name.
Other useful information- properties of cascara
No one would confuse a cup of cascara tea with a brewed cup of coffee. Cascara tea is light in color (like watered down apple juice), subtlety sweet and mild tasting. Cascara is also not technically a tea either (because it is not made from tea leaves). Most people would classify it as an herbal infusion or tisane.
Cascara has about 12-25% the caffeine content of a comparable volume of coffee. Some people report feeling more of a buzz after drinking a cup of cascara than when they drink their morning cup of joe. The reason for this is unknown but it has been speculated that there are some additional antioxidants that give your body a jolt.
There are different quality levels and flavors associated with cascara (just like with green coffee) but there is no grading system that I am aware of. This means if you are interested in exploring cascara, you should get a few different samples. One of these samples might resonate with you more than the others.
How to Brew Cascara
Brewing cascara is a lot like brewing loose leaf tea. Let the dried coffee fruit steep in water for a prescribed amount of time then filter the tea away from the pulp. You can achieve this in your favorite immersion brewer like the French press or the Clever Coffee Dripper. Any of the other loose leaf tea brewing method should work as well.
Just like with manual coffee brewing, you may have to adjust your strength and steeping time to meet your personal preference.
Hot cascara tea
My favorite way to brew hot cascara tea is with a French press. It is easy and it is a common immersion brewer to have on hand. I typically use a 1:25 (cascara to water) ratio but I have seen recipes range from 1:14 to 1:30.
- Combine 14 grams of cascara with 350 grams of water just off of boil.
- Steep for five minutes.
- Filter out the tea and enjoy.
This is a pretty middle-of-the-road recipe, I recommend playing around with the ratio as well as the steep length to find something that you enjoy.
Cold brew cascara
You can also cold brew cascara. Like cold brewing coffee (or making sun tea), this method results in a different kind of extraction and thus different flavors. I also prefer the French press (for convenience) with this method.
For cold brew:
- Combine 30 grams of cascara with 360 grams of cold drinking water.
- Let it steep for 24 hours.
- Filter out the tea and enjoy.
Qishr and Hashara
Qishr and hashara are traditional ways of preparing coffee cherry tea. Recipes for these drinks are few and far between but you can typically expect them to contain some fresh grated ginger, a sweetener and the addition of cinnamon, nutmeg or caraway (or a combination).
Like adding flavoring and additives to your coffee, doctoring up your cascara will change the beverage. The cascara teas I have tried have been pretty delicate with subtle flavors. Adding ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg or caraway (all very strong flavors) can dominate the beverage. Still, cascara tea can make a nice base for these spiced beverages.
I recommend starting with 350mL of water and a base of cascara (15-20 grams) and grated ginger (1-2 teaspoons). Add small amounts of cinnamon, nutmeg or caraway (or some combination). I also found wildflower honey to be a great sweetener should you feel the need.
Overall, I have found cascara to be an interesting beverage. It is a pleasant diversion and a nice change of pace for an afternoon beverage. Cascara cannot replace coffee for me as I do not find it to be nearly as interesting or enjoyable. If you are curious, I recommend you give it a try for the sheer novelty of it. If you are indifferent, stick with great craft coffee; it rarely disappoints.
*There are also recipes for qishr that use roasted coffee over the dried coffee cherries.
Do you have any experience with brewing cascara, qishr or hashara? Have an opinion or question about coffee cherry tea? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below. Thanks!