What is Cascara?

While it’s no mystery to most what coffee is, we thought we’d drop some knowledge about Cascara. So… what is Cascara? Good question. It’s awesome.

Coffee beans are the seed of a fruit, commonly referred to as a coffee cherry. This small, fleshy fruit can vary in color based on its variety, but is most often yellow or red when ripe. The cherry itself contains caffeine (that’s how coffee gets its caffeine) and is high in antioxidants. The fruit protects its seeds as they grow and develop by deterring insects and other wildlife that could prevent the development of the seed.

The process of pulping removes the seed from its cherry. When the seeds are roasted, you get coffee. But what happens to the cherries that worked so hard to protect those coffee beans? Typically, the cherry is discarded once it is separated from the seed. In some cases, coffee cherries can be turned into compost and used on the farm as fertilizer.

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In some instances, the cherries can be dried and brewed as a “tea.” In Ethiopia – coffee’s birthplace – the cherries have for centuries been dried and brewed as a beverage called Qishr. As coffee shrubs migrated from Africa and were eventually planted in Central and South America by the Europeans, the dried coffee cherries became referred to as Cascara – or “husk” in Spanish.

Few coffee farmers produce Cascara and even fewer countries export it. Slingshot Coffee Co., who we teamed up with to create the Cold Brew and cascara drink Long Distance Relationship, partners exclusively with renowned Specialty Coffee producer, Aida Battle – a fifth-generation coffee farmer and the first ever producer of Cascara in Latin America – to directly source single-origin and single-variety Cascara from Finca Kilimanjaro, a Cup of Excellence Award-winning farm in Santa Ana El Salvador. Aida began drying coffee cherries more than 10 years ago and continues to produce some of the most highly-sought-after Cascara in the world.

At the farm-level, Cascara requires the same attention to detail in processing as coffee, and there is a spectrum of quality that ranges among farmers who produce it. Coffee cherries that have been meticulously grown, picked, produced and dried will ultimately lead to a better beverage when properly brewed.

At Finca Kilimanjaro, coffee cherries are separated from the seeds and left whole. The whole cherries are washed clean, which removes some additional pulp from the husk. The cherries are then sent to dry on raised beds before being packaged for shipment.  

Although it comes from the coffee plant, Cascara tastes nothing like coffee when brewed. Because it’s brewed from a dried fruit, it most closely relates to an herbal tea or tisane. The variety of the coffee cherry – in addition to where it’s grown, when it’s picked and how it’s processed – has a strong influence on flavor profile, body and acidity. Typically, there is a naturally sweet component to the flavor profile that may be complimented by a tangy or floral component. How it’s brewed also plays a role in what flavors are most pronounced, as well as the body and acidy that is most present.

Cascara is still a new introduction to the United States, but an exciting piece of the Specialty Coffee experience. Brewed hot or cold, Cascara is a super interesting way to enjoy another delicious part of a plant of which we have all grown quite fond.

*Special thanks to our friends at Slingshot Coffee for lending their cascara expertise for this entry!