What is Cascara? An introduction to Coffee Cherry Tea

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Think you know your coffee from your tea? Well, if you’re not familiar with Cascara – also known as ‘coffee cherry tea’ then you might want to read on, and discover a unique type of beverage. Cherry tea is like nothing you’ve ever tasted before!

What is Cascara?

Coffee cherries/Cascara

Coffee cherries (also known as coffee berries) are the whole fruits which grow on the coffee plant. Cascara comes from the Arabic word Qishr, meaning ‘peel’ or ‘husk’). In ‘normal’ coffee (the most popular form of the beverage that we all know and love), the beans used are the seeds of this cherry. Ordinarily, the cherry is pulped, the seeds are removed for roasting, and then the cherry fruit is discarded (they’re often used in compost or fertiliser). But as word spreads about an alternative use for them in cherry coffee, they are taking on a whole new life of their own.

Cascara occupies a sort of middle-ground between tea and coffee, so you might sometimes see it described as coffee cherry tea or cascara tea, even though it’s made from coffee berries. However, unlike a tea, it isn’t made from the leaves of a plant, but instead from the fruit which is cleaned and dried. But if you’re expecting it to taste anything like coffee then you might be surprised! To be really accurate, it’s best to describe Cascara as a ‘tisane’ – the technical name for a type of herbal tea. These have long been used in hot beverages, as far back as the ancient Chinese and Egyptian times, both for the pleasure they bring but also for the medicinal properties they are thought to have. Cascara coffee (tea really!) is clever stuff.

Instead of tasting like coffee, you’re more likely to get a sweet, fruity, herbal flavour. Some really perceptive drinkers with super-sensitive taste buds have even reported hints of cherry, hibiscus or even mango, so it’s worth trying to see what sort of flavour adventure Cascara will send you on!

How to make Cascara tea?

Cascara tea

How should you make a Cascara tea? Well, it varies depending on where you are in the world, and your individual tastes, but you would usually simply:

  • Measure about 2 heaped tablespoons of the cherry husks/peelings for each mug of tea you want (a usual mug is 8 – 10 oz of water);
  • Steep (soak) in boiling water for 3-5 minutes;
  • Strain the mixture into your favourite mug to remove any remnants of husk, and enjoy.

Interestingly, you can also brew Cascara cold, or in the fridge overnight.

Does Cascara contain a lot of caffeine?

Caffeine content in cascara

You might be wondering how much caffeine is in Cascara, if it’s made from the cherries of the coffee plant and not the dried beans? Surprisingly, tests have revealed that Cascara contains quite modest amounts of caffeine. How much water you use and the brew time you give it makes a difference, but generally, caffeine levels are lower in Cascara tea than coffee, by up to four times.

Even though it’s less of a caffeine hit than traditional coffee, the scope for adding your own twist to the drink using herbs and spices is much greater – you can really let your imagination run wild with your Cascara. For example, steeping the Cascara with cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg creates a really unique drink (search for Hashara online for more information!) This drink is still consumed today in certain African and Middle Eastern countries. In fact, it is often drunk more commonly than coffee, because it’s less expensive to produce than dried, roasted coffee beans.

Another advantage of drinking Cascara is that it is good for the environment. Instead of simply discarding the husk of the coffee cherry, using it in Cascara tea means less waste – and there are huge amounts of the leftover husks available to be used in Cascara tea. Of course, the used Cascara is also biodegradable and can be used as fertiliser too.

What is Cascara Sagrada?

Be careful to remember the difference between Cascara coffee cherry tea and something known as bitter cascara, or Cascara Sagrada bark. This is a different product, though it does have benefits of its own. It can either be drunk as pure bark tea, or as a blend with green or black tea. So what is Cascara Sagrada used for?

Cascara Sagrada Benefits

Well, this bark from the Californian buckthorn tree is very good at… getting things moving, i.e. as a laxative. Native Americans used to swear by the health benefits of Cascara Sagrada, not only for constipation but also for joint pain and even gallstones. Cascara bark benefits really are that wide-ranging!

However, as with many ancient remedies, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before using it, and be aware of Cascara side effects (according to the Article on herbal medicine published in World Journal of Hepatology, these can include stomach cramps and, rarely, dependency). Cascara sagrada toxicity is very rare, but it always pays to be careful with natural substances such as this. And if you’re thinking about consuming Cascara Sagrada during pregnancy then the advice is that you should really avoid it whilst you are pregnant, just to be on the safe side.

As a Cascara drinker, you’ll be amongst a smaller group of fans than with traditional coffee, as it isn’t yet consumed widely in the Western world. Few countries produce it in any significant volume, or export it to others, meaning that the best quality Cascara coffee cherries are often highly sought-after, but we think you’ll agree that they’re definitely worth it!


Q. What is Cascara?

A. It is the husk (fleshy outer part) of the coffee cherry – the berry that grows on the coffee plant. Instead of throwing it away or using it as fertiliser (as usually happens), it can be brewed in hot water, creating a drink more like tea than coffee.

Q. What does it taste like?

A. Instead of tasting like the traditional coffee we know and love, Cascara is more like a sweet, herbal tea, to which you can add your favourite blend of herbs and spices, such as ginger and nutmeg.

Q. How popular is Cascara?

A. Not as popular as coffee – in fact, it is rarely seen in the West although it is commonly consumed in certain African and Middle Eastern countries (in particular, Ethiopia and Yemen).

Q. What’s Cascara Sagrada? Is it the same thing?

A. No, the two are different things from different plants, although both make interesting and healthy drinks. Cascara Sagrada comes from the bark of the Californian buckthorn tree, which tastes bitter but has been used by native Americans for centuries and can be drunk as Cascara Sagrada tea.

Q. What are some of the health benefits of Cascara Sagrada?

A. Despite the taste, this form of bitter Cascara is said to help alleviate constipation and joint pain, but this Cascara Sagrada bark is not generally safe to consume in pregnancy.