We have had a whole lot of questions lately about cascara so I sat down today to take some more pics, clarify brewing instructions, and so on. Our Thrillist mention gives a shout out to the stuff so it's no wonder folks are curious!
'Cáscara' is the Spanish word for husk or hull. Coffee cascara refers to the hardened skin of the coffee cherry, resulting from slow and careful drying of the entire, intact coffee cherry after it's been picked. This requires a specific type of 'processing' (or lack thereof) called 'natural' processing, which is what I just mentioned: picking ripe cherries and letting them dry. Most coffee worldwide that is destined to be exported to consuming countries is processed by the 'washed' method in some form or other: the skin of the cherry is removed and the seeds ('beans') inside are often cleaned, rinsed, etc. In the case of washed coffees, pulped skin can't really be reclaimed, dried, made into cascara because the flimsy stuff will just mold and rot. Instead it usually gets used for fertilizer (very little is wasted in most efficient coffee operations).
Before export, natural processed coffees must be husked and sorted and prepped, graded, etc. At this stage, the husk has been dried to a stable level and can be collected, bagged up and exported as its own product.
Our Costa Rican Las Lajas cascara lot comes from a farm that grows coffee without chemicals and practices sustainability across the board. They have developed a niche for producing high quality natural processed coffees so as a result also have this well-sorted, quality cascara.
Cascara can be prepared hot or cold, but below are pictures of a hot-steep preparation, rehydrating and extraction the soluble material from the dried coffee fruit and skin.
Some customers of ours have used it to make syrups or other extracts for speciality drinks and cocktails. It can be nice and refreshing poured over ice or made strong and mixed with other spices to create a warming beverage on a cool day.
Our 8 oz pouches of cascara
Coffee cascara looks a bit like dried rosehips, except larger.
We recommend brewing with about 15 grams cascara to 415 ml hot water (195-200F)
This brew (above) is at roughly 5 mins steep time. You can clearly see the extraction is well underway and the brew is turning a cider color.
We recommend hot steeping for 5 minutes for a lighter, crisper brew or as long as 20 minutes for a heavier, more tannic brew.
And here we have a snifter of cascara. Tastes like peach, assam black tea, cider, raisins, hibiscus, tobacco.
Available studies indicate cascara has roughly 1/4 caffeine content to traditional brewed coffee. Not much information is available yet about the chemical breakdown of the brewed product, but many folks remark they feel surprisingly stimulated and alert.