Did you know your morning cup of coffee comes from a fruit? A cherry to be exact. After the coffee cherries are depulped and processed, the leftover “husk” or “skin” is set aside, basked in the sun, shipped, and brewed for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Cascara has slowly made its way into the specialty coffee scene after baristas started using it in competitions throughout the United States. Now, you’ll most likely see it on the seasonal menu at your local coffee shop. Even Starbucks took it for a spin on their menu a couple of years ago.
Typically, the cherries are discarded once it’s separated from the seed and often used as fertilizer. Although popular in other parts of the world, it wasn’t until recently that baristas and roasters recognized its potential as a specialty drink.
Visually, cascara is large, woody, leathery, and looks similar to dried raisins. Normally considered as a by-product of the coffee process, cascara offers a unique way to understand the complexities of the coffee plant. It also offers eco-friendly ways for producers to make money. Plus, it tends to carry sweet, fruity, floral, and tropical flavors with the extra umph of caffeine.
Though it comes from the coffee plant, cascara tastes nothing like coffee. It more closely resembles tea or tisane, accentuating berry and floral tasting notes. Similar to coffee, the variety of cherry, where it’s grown, when it is picked, and how it is processed influences the way it tastes. Evaluating the color helps to determine its ripeness, and in turn, its flavor. Riper cherries tend to have greater flavor and sweetness.
The biggest challenge is sourcing and finding clean cascara, without sticks, leaves, and even mold, since cascara processing isn’t normalized. We sourced our cascara from our friends at Cafe Imports, who are diligent in finding the cleanest and most sustainable cascara. The Fazenda Camocim farm is located in Brazil where over 300,000 coffee trees are planted. The Cafe Bio Project, which is located on the farm, is considered a biodynamic farm within an agroforestry system. Biodynamic farming shares similar practices and principles as organic farming- no pesticides, herbicides, or toxins. It is “built from the philosophy that the land is an autonomous living being and should be cared for holistically” (Cafe Imports).
Unlike brewing coffee, there are no precise rules for brewing cascara- simply play around with different water ratios, water temperatures, and even steep times.
As a base point, try this recipe:
5g coffee cherries: 10oz boiling water
- Add coffee cherries to carafe
- Add boiling water
- Steep for 5 minutes or longer (depending on desired strength)
- Sip & enjoy!
Expect flavor profiles ranging from molasses, cedar, raisins, honeydew, rooibos, and cider. You can evaluate it based on aroma, body, flavor, sweetness, and acidity. Look for a balance of acidity and sweetness. If you don’t want to drink it as a tea, try a much stronger cascara to water ratio and drink it with milk. Cascara is even tasty as a cocktail… make it wild. We’ve got a handful of drinks on our seasonal menu featuring this yummy little ingredient! Let us know if you need help or recommendations.