Let’s talk about Cascara. There’s a little confusion around the word so, to be clear, I’m using “cascara” here to refer to the beverage made from dried coffee fruit. This term was adopted from the Spanish word Cascara for husk. Technically the beverage is a coffee cherry herbal tea, or more accurately, a coffee cherry tisane (tea nerds prefer using the word “tisane” over “herbal tea” since there really is no tea used in these beverages).
You may feel like cascara is something you’ve just started to see at your favorite cafe but cascara has been around forever. In Yemen, one of the first places where coffee was cultivated, brewing coffee cherries has been the primary method of consuming coffee for hundreds of years. Today the dominant coffee culture centers around roasting, grinding, and brewing the seeds of these cherries but we’re beginning to re-examine the potential of the flavorful fruit. This delicious brew benefits not only the environment and coffee producers but it also has amazing health benefits.
Although often used as compost by coffee farmers, cherry husks are poor fertilizers. It’s estimated that under the current model 40% of the whole coffee cherry is wasted in coffee production. Using the husks in beverages reduces food waste. While reducing waste, cascara also allows producers to monetize a product which was previously discarded. Farmers are now able to use cascara as an additional source of income. While coffee producers increase income, they are able to purchase better fertilizers, increase yield, and grow better coffee. The environment and the entire supply chain benefit from using the whole cherry rather than just the seed.
The health benefits of cascara are staggering. It’s high in polyphenol compounds which have a role in the prevention of degenerative diseases. As the current healthy eating messaging finds us constantly searching for more antioxidants, cascara has been proven to be higher in antioxidants than tea, vitamin C and E, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and pomegranate. It feels like everything is described as a superfood these days but it’s hard to deny cascara’s super healthy qualities.
I’m incredibly excited that we’ll be serving iced cascara in our cafes this month. Not only for all the ways it benefits producers, consumers, and the environment but also because of its refreshing and complex flavor. Our cascara is from the famed coffee producers at the Las Lajas farm in Costa Rica. There they produce an exceptional cherry which creates a profoundly floral and candy-sweet drink perfect for the hot days of late spring.
Written by our head Workshop Roaster, Hugh Morretta