Cáscara, which means “husk” “peel” or “skin” in Spanish, is the dried skins of coffee cherries. It is a novel way of recycling left over coffee pulp, which is produced in huge quantities when ripe coffee cherries are pulped before the beans are washed and dried. In most producing countries this pulp is traditionally seen as worthless and is usually broken down and used as fertilizer – but it is also possible to dry this left over cherry to create the base for a unique and refreshing tea. The neat part about this whole process is that not only does it allow for the coffee plant to be used in a creative way, but it’s also eco-friendly.
Cáscara tea—although it comes from the coffee plant, the drink doesn’t taste anything like coffee. Likewise, the tea does not have the same caffeine content as coffee. In the post “Cascara and Caffeine” on the Square Mile Coffee Blog, co-founder Anette Moldvaer explains that in August, Square Mile sent some cascara to a lab in Germany to test exactly how much caffeine the drink contains. Moldvaer reports: “As expected, [the] ratio of cascara to water has an impact on the caffeine content of the final beverage, while steep time seems to make little difference.” However, she continues, “Surprisingly, we found the caffeine content to be fairly low. Even at the strongest, longest brew, the caffeine content of cascara came in at 111.4 mg/L, compared to broad range of about 400-800 mg/L in brewed coffee.”
Although few have heard of it, cáscara has a very long and interesting history. Coffee farmers in Yemen and Ethiopia have in fact been drying and brewing cherry like this for centuries – possibly since before coffee seeds were first used to make a drink. In these countries the dried cherry is often steeped along with spices such as ginger, nutmeg or cinnamon to make a fragrant drink known as Hashara in Ethiopia or Qishr in Yemen.
This particular cáscara is the dried cherry from various high grown organic coffees processed at the Buena Vista mill in Caranavi, in the heart of one of Bolivia’s prime coffee-producing areas. All of these coffees are grown at over 1,500 metres by small producers in the Caranavi region – a lush, fertile area of steep valleys and mountains that provides habitat for a diverse range of flora and fauna.
Caranavi’s small, traditional family farms average around 5 hectares each, and are often planted out with citrus trees as well as coffee. Most farms use no chemical fertilizers or pesticides and this cascara was produced using cherry from fully organic certified producers.
The result is a rare and delicious tea, which reveals yet another taste dimension to the coffee cherry.