Cascara Offers A Way To Turn The Coffee Plant Into Tea

Coffee truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

What we know as coffee beans are actually the seeds of a fruit that grows on coffee plants. The fruit is sometimes called a “coffee cherry.” Of course, coffee lovers are mostly after that seed on the inside, but what surrounds it is interesting, too.

Cascara
Dried coffee cherries are sometimes known as “cascara,” from the Spanish word for “husk.” (© Ken Lecoq | Pixabay)

Cascara is the name for the dried out skin or husk that remains after the seed of a coffee cherry—the coffee bean—has been removed. It’s mostly considered a byproduct of coffee production, because the most commonly used part of the coffee plant is the seed inside the cherry. However, proper care of the skin can produce a wonderful drink that has many health benefits.

Where does cascara come from?

Cascara is popular as a fertilizer or in compost in many places, but in Ethiopia it has been used to make drinks for centuries. The cascara is dried and brewed as a tea called Qishr. In America, this same drink is known as cascara or cascara sagrada.

Very few coffee farmers bother producing cascara because it is not widely sought after or used. It also requires just as much maintenance and care as regular coffee beans do. The quality of cascara depends on factors such as how it is grown, picked, produced, and dried. High-quality cascara needs a lot of TLC..

While cascara is a part of the coffee plant, don’t expect it to make a drink that tastes like coffee. These husks that protect the beans actually have a similar flavor profile to an herbal tea, with a fruity taste. After all, it does come from a dried fruit. The taste of the tea can vary dramatically depending on how the skins are processed. Usually the taste is slightly sweet and tangy.

Cascara tea in a French press
Some coffee shops have begun offering cascara tea. (© Christy Baugh | Creative Commons)

As a drink, cascara still has not been popularized and isn’t widely available in coffee shops, but it is yet another exciting use of the coffee plant that you can introduce to your friends. You can enjoy it hot or cold, and feel good about helping reduce the waste from coffee plants.

Coffee processing and cascara

Coffee typically undergoes one of two processing methods which make the husks available: dry processing or wet processing.

Dry processing

In dry processing, ripe cherries are laid out and dried before anything else happens. Then the husks are stripped away from the beans using a de-pulping machine. The beans go on to be made into coffee; the husks are already dry and can be used for cascara.

In places where there is rain during harvesting season, dry processing is difficult so wet processing becomes the preferred method.

Man raking coffee cherries in the sun
Coffee cherries dry in the sun at Café Tuxpal in Santa Ana, El Salvador. (© Dennis Tang | Flickr)

Wet processing

Wet processing uses four machines, employed the same day the cherries are harvested. The first filters out any unripe cherries. The second is a de-pulping machine, which removes the skins. Then the beans go through another filter that removes undesirable beans. Finally, the beans are washed to remove residue.

Now the beans are ready for drying. The skins that came off during de-pulping can be dried for cascara.

Coffee cherry skins
These skins were removed from fresh coffee cherries during de-pulping, and can now be dried out for cascara. (© Christian Frausto Bernal | Creative Commons)

The main difference in taste between these two processes is that dry-processed cascara typically has a more full, fruity flavor, because it is dried so quickly after harvesting. Wet-processed cascara has a brighter color when brewed. Neither is better, it’s all a matter of personal taste.

Benefits of drinking cascara

The many benefits of drinking cascara tea include aiding the body’s digestive system, its nutritional properties, the hydration it provides, and its contribution to sustainability.

Supporting digestion

The main benefit most people get out of cascara tea is improvements in the digestive system. The herbal tea helps clean the colon, which minimizes constipation. The cleansing properties also help improve digestion, which can help prevent gastric diseases or other problems.

The tea also is filled with antioxidants and polyphenols. Some researchers have found it to contain more antioxidants than cranberries. This helps to prevent diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease, and more. 

Cascara can be a great dietary supplement for those who have digestive issues.

Reducing stress

Cascara tea can also help reduce stress and lead to better sleep, both of which contribute to optimal brain functioning. Research has also uncovered evidence that it boosts the brain’s processing speed and ability to focus.

Hydrating nutrients

Cascara can keep you hydrated, and it contains vitamins such as potassium, calcium, and vitamin B, which contribute to healthy hair and skin. These nutrients help keep your skin moisturized and looking smoother and younger—never a bad thing! For those who struggle with dry or unhealthy hair and dry or problematic skin, cascara tea may help.

Sustainability

Along with its unique taste and health benefits, cascara tea is good for the environment. It helps reduce the waste that results from the production of the coffee we love.

How to brew cascara

What you’ll need

To brew cascara tea, you’ll need:

  • cascara tea
  • water
  • tea strainer

Step-by-step instructions

  1. Boil your water, then reduce temperature to just below boiling. Water that is too hot can burn the delicate tea.
  2. Measure your tea and place it in the cup. We recommend around half a tablespoon of tea for every eight-ounce cup of water. You can adjust this to your liking.
  3. Steep for 3-4 minutes in the hot water, or longer depending on your tastes.
  4. Strain the coffee cherry tea and add any additional flavors. The drink is naturally sweet. However, many people like to add flavors such as ginger, rosehip, nutmeg, mango, mint leaves, or other spices. You can also sweeten it using honey or simple syrup.
  5. Enjoy!

Is there caffeine in cascara?

Since cascara is part of the coffee fruit, it does contain caffeine. The caffeine content is lower than what you would find in the beans, though. If you’re looking for a special drink with less of a caffeine kick than coffee, be sure to try this unique tea.

Image at top: © Migle | Creative Commons