A new and exotic drink has been slowly emerging in speciality tea and coffee houses around the world, known as cascara or coffee cherry tea. In the UK, we’ve found it’s still quite hard to get your hands on (although you’ll be happy to know, it is now available to buy from our online store here). So, what exactly is this drink and what’s all the fuss about?!
In order to properly describe cascara, I should begin by explaining that coffee beans are not beans in a scientific sense. It’s a similar story to that of tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers, etc – they are all things which are not traditionally treated as fruits, but technically they are. Similarly, coffee beans are technically seeds and not beans; coffee plants bear fruits known as cherries which are typically a red or purple colour when ripe. Each cherry contains two seeds and these are what we know as coffee beans.
Cascara is the dried husks, skins and fruit of the coffee plant which remain after the seeds (coffee beans) have been collected. The name ‘cascara’ originates from the Spanish word, cáscara, which means ‘husk’. It is prepared in the same way as tea, but is not officially classified as tea due to it originating from the coffee plant (genus: coffea) rather than the tea plant (genus: camellia). Cascara is officially categorised as a 'tisane' (the same category as herbal teas), here at the Cookhouse we categorise it as an infusion.
Cascara has had a hard time in the UK and in the EU. In the past, it was a relatively unknown commodity and was simply imported as a low grade coffee. However, as it grew in popularity within the speciality coffee scene, it started to draw attention to itself. It was realised that since it was technically neither a tea or a coffee, there was no valid import licence in existence. In the UK there were even reports of officials from the food standards agency raiding cafes and confiscating their cascara supplies. The good news for cascara fans is that cascara now has its own import licence and is perfectly legal to sell in the UK.
How to prepare:
Cascara is prepared in the same way as you would make a fruit or herbal tea:
Take about 10g of cascara per cup required, add boiling water and leave to infuse for about five minutes before drinking.
Some people like to make it in a tea pot and strain it, some people just put their cascara straight into their cup and add water. The cascara itself is mainly large pieces, when it is strained there is relatively little caught in the strainer other than large berry sized pieces and so some people choose not to strain it at all. The large size of cascara does mean that it absorbs quite a lot of water compared to traditional tea, so always make sure you add more water than you intend on drinking!
The resulting drink can be consumed hot or cold and doesn't tend to stew in the same way as tea does, we've had reports that some of our customers keep their cascara in their cup all day and just keep on adding water as required.
What is the drink like?
Cascara has a fruity taste and does not resemble coffee as we know it at all. On tasting, we have picked up flavours like rhubarb, cherry and red bush. It is naturally high in antioxidants and is classed as a superfood.
Cascara does contain caffeine, but at time of publishing no official caffeine level was available. This is due in part to cascara not having a standardised method of preparation, different people make it with different cascara to water ratios. We are able to advise that cascara does contain caffeine and that when prepared as described in this article, the caffeine levels are lower than traditionally prepared coffee.
One common complaint relating to fruit teas is that they smell great but sometimes don't taste of very much, this is not the case with cascara. The taste is becoming quite a phenomenon, cascara lattes are in high demand in Asia and we've even heard of jelly sweets being flavoured with cascara.
Due to cascara's caffeine content and its negligible calorific value, it is becoming more and more popular as a cold drink to take to the gym. It has a pleasant, fruity taste and people find that the caffeine content helps boost their work out performance.
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