Casc-huh? Cas-car-uh sounds like it would, in no way, be related to coffee. But it is. In fact, it’s actually coffee (in its fruity form). It’s also a Cuban rhythm on the timbales, but that’s beside the point. You could technically call Cascara the coffee bean’s jacket because it’s actually the fruit surrounding the coffee bean. Over the past decade, the name Cascara has been cycling through the coffee world like a DJ circuits clubs in Miami. It’s been in and out of popularity at different Club Java locations (aka coffee shops) around the globe, but has recently been making a resurgence—kind of like how high-waisted jeans have somehow (unfortunately) made a comeback.
But all joking aside (pff), cascara is a beverage that’s made from the dried cherry of a coffee plant. It’s not only healthy and delicious—yes, you can actually have something that is both healthy and delicious—it’s also good for the environment and good for the coffee farmers. Here is a crash course introduction to the wonderful world of cascara, coffee’s alter ego and possibly your newest addiction.
The one behind it all
Cascara, which means shell in Spanish, was a beverage discovered (and named) in the early ’00s by Aida Batlle, a fifth generation coffee producer and businesswoman. Why the name cascara? Do you really think the marketing people would have had much success with something called Coffee Pulp Tea? Yeah, that totally sounds like the next big It drink (no, not the show with the terrifying clown…you get the picture).
In a conversation with Batlle, she explained that in 2005, she was attending a coffee cupping in El Salvador and noticed this reddish-brown tea in one of the cups. (In case you were wondering, a coffee cupping is just like a wine tasting, but with coffee). She described it as having a light, floral aroma and tasting like hibiscus, honey, and tamarind. (For those of you who aren’t great with flavor notes, that means it tastes sweet and tangy).
And thus, cascara was brought to the USA…and promptly claimed by Starbucks and Blue Bottle Coffee.
How it’s made and how you should take it
As briefly mentioned, cascara is the fruit that surrounds the coffee bean. Every coffee plant produces tiny red fruits called coffee cherries, and just like other cherries, they have seeds, which is—you guessed it—the coffee bean. The name cascara actually refers to the drink itself, which is steeped as a tisane—an infusion of any plant matter other than tea—and consumed hot or cold.
Cascara is actually a bit difficult to produce, because according to Batlle, it molds easily. As a seasoned coffee and cascara vet, Batlle makes sure that the cascara she sources is pulled immediately from the freshly pulped coffee. It’s dried in the shade on specialized drying beds, and then given a thorough inspection before it’s shipped out (you know, to get rid of any unwanted twigs, husks, membranes, bugs, things you don’t want in your cup).
While it makes a tasty hot drink, Batlle recommends (and prefers) hers over ice with a bit of lemon and sweetener to bring out the natural floral essence. It can also be consumed morning, noon or night because unlike its caffeinated counterpart, Cascara has only a miniscule amount of C8H10N4O2. (That’s the chemical formula for caffeine. Yay for science).
It also shouldn’t be confused with Cascara Sagrada, which is a small shrub whose bark is prized for its, uh, laxative properties. OK, so coffee could be prized for that too, but that’s not the point. The fruit of the coffee plant is packed with antioxidants and minerals—like potassium—and super high in polyphenols. Everyone already knows that coffee is a miracle drink. Well, so is its skin…? That didn’t sound quite right, but you get the picture.
It’s also important to note that Cascara tastes like the coffee bean that it’s sourced from. In other words, Cascara from Guatemala won’t taste the same as Cascara from Ethiopia, Brazil, or El Salvador. Why? Because just like coffee, they’re from different geographic locations, and none of these coffees taste the same once they’ve been brewed for your brain juice. (Some of you might argue that coffee tastes like coffee, but you’re wrong. Try going to a coffee cupping sometime. Then you’ll see.)
Bring in the cascara universal truth
So you might be thinking that this is all just another marketing ploy geared towards sucking up more dollars from health fanatics and eco-warriors.
Well, it could be. But that’s not really how it started out. You see, there’s a deep dark secret that the coffee industry doesn’t want you to know about: Coffee actually produces a huuuugeee amount of biowaste (the fancy terminology for that is coffee byproduct). What’s considered coffee byproduct? Anything that isn’t the bean that gets sent to a landfill. That includes the leaves, stems, coffee cherry pulp (cascara), your spent coffee grounds that you thought would just biodegrade in a super sustainable way. Nope. Nada. Unfortunately, wrong.
Take your coffee grounds. Once they end up in a landfill, they’re not just hanging with the rotting cabbage, snotty tissues, doggy dookie bags, and whatever else is fermenting there. They’re decomposing and producing methane (the greenhouse has that’s 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide). Ruh-roh. So if you purchase cascara, you’re removing it from landfills and thus eliminating unnecessary methane gas production. Yay for the environment!
Does it get any better? Or course it does. If you purchase these dried coffee
cherry skins jackets cherries (sounds much more pleasant), you’re actually creating another source of income for the farmer who produced it. Remember, cascara is considered coffee waste, so what was once technically trash and dumped to ferment in a landfill, or donated as fertilizer, has now become another stream of income that can be put back into sustainable farming techniques and community education. Yay for humanity!
A few to try
With only glowing reviews for this Cascara, Verve Coffee brings you an intensely sweet product from Helsar de Zarcero, a micro-mill in, obviously, Costa Rica. Try making sun tea out of this one—with a flavor profile of rose hips, raisins, and a slightly tart finish, you’ll never have to worry about dehydration because you’ll be drinking this all day.
Aida Batlle Selection Cascara
Straight from the cascara goddess herself, Aida Batlle’s premium El Salvadorian Cascara is sourced from one of her family’s three coffee farms. It’s refreshingly sweet with hibiscus on the forefront and has a rather pleasant tang to it. This tisane should be enjoyed morning, noon, and night. So, like, all the time because it’s freaking amazing.
Twin Engine Coffee Caturra Tea
This organic Nicaraguan cascara (Twin Engine’s calls it Caturra) has a slightly different taste that’s more reminiscent of raisins. When steeped hot, it smells like cherries. When cold, it takes on more raisin-esque essence. Both versions are equally satisfying.
Java Pura Costa Rica Las Lajas Cascara
On behalf of farmers Oscar and Francesca Chacon, Java Pura brings you their delicious (and what some say is the best) Costa Rican Cascara. With a flavor profile of citrus, cherry, and hibiscus, try making a tisane in your French press.
Nossa Familia Guatemalan Cascara
This floral smelling cascara is from the sustainable farms of Finca San Jerónimo Miramar in Guatemala. Nossa Familia note that its mild floral aroma and dark cherry taste make this repurposed byproduct a great candidate for making at-home beer, cider, and kombucha.