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.