What is cascara? All you need to know about coffee cherry tea

11 May 2022

Coffee

Who knew you could make tea from coffee beans?

Coffee is often synonymous with coffee beans. And there’s no wonder why — we just can’t get enough of the good stuff. But did you know that the coffee plant itself can be used to make cascara, also known as coffee cherry tea?

Interested in learning more? Here’s all you need to know.

Unroasted coffee cherries

What is cascara?

Cascara comes from the Spanish word cáscara, meaning husk or peel. It refers to the dried skin of coffee plant berries, also called coffee cherries.

The berries each contain two seeds, which we’ve come to recognise as the coffee beans we know and love. But what of the cascara? Previously, it was considered a waste product of the coffee-making process. But increasingly, people all over the world are beginning to value cascara for its unique taste and antioxidising properties.

Important: don’t confuse it with Cascara Sagrada, a shrub whose dried bark acts as a natural laxative. (Cascara tea won’t help with that.)

You can enjoy coffee husks as a warming fruit tisane, otherwise known as herbal tea — hence the name ‘cascara tea’, or ‘coffee cherry tea’. It’s long been a popular drink of choice in coffee-growing countries, such as the ginger-infused Yemeni drink qishr, but now it’s beginning to catch on globally.

Cascara: coffee bean husks

How is cascara tea made?

On the farming end, growers wash the coffee seeds to separate them from the fruit, and then dry the husks quickly in the sun, creating the dried peel that’s ready to drink. On the drinker’s end, the best way to enjoy cascara is by steeping it in hot or cold water as a herbal infusion. All you need is water, a tea strainer or cafetiere, and your favourite mug. The amount of cascara you need depends on how strong you like your tea. But generally, around 5g per 100ml is a good start. Boil your water, pour it out, and then steep for around 4 minutes. Then enjoy!

What does cascara taste like?

The beauty of coffee is in its diversity: each blend can have a rainbow of distinct flavours depending on growing methods and locations. All our flavours of coffee shine in their own way, with the blends creating a whole bouquet of flavours and aroma. And cascara is no different.

It’s still coffee, but the taste differs a bit — a lot of the nuances of a good cup of coffee’s flavour come from the roasting process, which cascara tea skips entirely. The taste of the coffee cherry is sweet and refreshing, and some people compare the tea itself to other tisanes like hibiscus.

Waste not, want not

Until more recently, only the coffee bean was seen as valuable on a global scale. The rest of the plant was seen as waste. If it’s not used for composting or animal feed, it’s thrown away entirely. But cascara tea makes the most of a byproduct of the industry, turning waste into a delicious hot drink. Reducing food waste is part of our ongoing fight to do our bit for the planet, so any way of making the most of resources is a plus in our books. If you’re wondering what to do with your coffee waste, how about reusing your coffee grounds in the garden?

Reducing coffee waste isn’t only good for the environment — if the farmers can sell more of the plant, they can get more income. Processing coffee cherries requires a similar amount of labour as exporting coffee, but the market is growing, and people are beginning to recognise their value.

How much caffeine does cascara contain?

It’s an important question to consider for every drink — “Will I be bouncing off the walls after one or two cups?”. For regular coffee it’s a solid ‘maybe’ depending on your tolerance, but cascara tea isn’t quite so invigorating. Square Mile Coffee Roasters did some tests to find out how much caffeine cascara tea contains. The results? Even the strongest brew had substantially less caffeine than a brewed coffee, and about as much as a mug of black tea.

So if you’re a die-hard coffee fan who wants to try cutting down on caffeine, decaf might do the job, but why not shake it up a bit with cascara?

Herbal tea in a white mug

Is cascara banned in the UK?

Here’s the difficult part: cascara itself is a bit of an elusive item. Until September 2021, it wasn’t legal to sell in the European Union because it counted as a novel food, meaning that it hadn’t been consumed regularly in the EU before 1997. Cafes had to stop selling cascara tea and other related products. Not because they were illegal, but because they weren’t legal yet, as coffee expert James Hoffman puts it. The video is quite old now, but information on cascara’s legality in the UK is scarce — and so is cascara itself.

It’s currently unregulated in the US. This is why Starbucks can serve a cascara latte without issue, but as for across the pond? With the exit of the UK from the EU, it’s all up in the air whether the new law applies. So what’s the truth? We’ll have our favourite mugs ready and waiting for when new information is released.

And until then, why not enjoy a mug of one of our signature coffee blends? Coming in bean form or pod form, we source our coffee from sustainable farmers and collectives all over the world. That’s how you know it’s the good stuff.