What is Cascara Latte?

You’ve seen it on the menu at your favorite coffee shops. But you really don’t know what it’s all about.

What is Cascara Latte, what does it taste like, and should you be drinking it?

cascara bark

What is cascara?

Cascara is a little-known byproduct of coffee production. When coffee is processed, the fruit, or coffee cherry, is removed from the green beans. Once it’s dried, that coffee cherry is called cascara.

Cascara is the Spanish word for shell (or outer covering) and is an appropriate name for the thin layer of coffee cherry fruit that protects the coffee seed.

For the coffee seed, the next step in processing is the drying phase. Then the coffee bean gets roasted and ground, and at that point, the coffee beans become that delicious drink you know so well.

At this point, you may ask yourself: But what about the fruit? What happens to the coffee cherry?

Brace yourself for this one.

The fruit from coffee cherries is usually discarded.

Yes, cascara is often composted and used as fertilizer on a coffee farm to put nutrients back into the soil, nutrients that help the coffee plant thrive. Some coffee growers highly value this natural, organic compost.

But cascara does have other, more delicious uses. In some parts of the world, it is traditionally used as tea. And in the United States, it has now found its way into beverages.

What is a cascara latte?

A regular latte is made with milk and coffee, namely a shot or two of espresso.

On the other hand, a cascara latte is made with milk and cascara or syrup (and potentially, a shot of espresso). The addition of the dried coffee gives the latte a bit of sweetness and tartness.

Please don’t confuse cascara with cascara sagrada, which is an entirely different type of plant.

latte with cascara

Starbucks Cascara Latte

At Starbucks, a Cascara Latte gets dressed up with plenty of milk, espresso, and cascara syrup. That cascara extract is made of water, cane sugar and coconut sugar, coffee cherry extract, and a few other additives.

Starbucks adds a shot of espresso to give the beverage more of a punch. The added sugars give the drink a sweetness that may remind you of dark brown sugar and maple. Starbucks also finishes it off with a dusting of cascara topping.

What does Cascara Latte taste like?

As a coffee professor, I often have cascara in my office or kitchen. Coffee farmers give me bags of what is, to them, scrap material. I often brew it as a mild afternoon tea since it has minimal caffeine.

Cascara tea, when brewed alone, tends to be a bit tart and slightly sweet. It’s far from the strong taste that you associate with the coffee bean. It makes a pleasant, fruity tea-like drink. Think along the lines of cherry or red currant tea.

When you put a heaping amount of milk into this light tea, it overwhelms the gentle flavors. That’s why the latte needs at least one shot of espresso and sugar, as well as the more concentrated flavors in cascara syrup.

The cane sugars that Starbucks adds to their syrup and beverage give it a dark brown sugary sweetness that might remind you of a maple flavor. And the cascara topping gives it the aroma of coffee fruit.

cascara tea

Wrapping Up

Starbucks makes their Cascara Latte into a pleasant dessert-like drink. I think that’s not only typical of the Starbucks brand, but it’s also a good way to introduce the public to coffee cherry tea.  

After all, not everyone will be enthusiastic about drinking a tart tea, no matter that the fruit once adorned a coffee seed. But developing a sweet, frothy beverage around it appeals to a broader range of people. 

So feel free to try the Starbucks Cascara Latte. Just don’t expect to be hit with a concentrated taste since you’ll mostly taste the milk and sugars.

Are you interested in trying cascara alone to get the full flavors? You can find it online. Steep it as you would for tea and drink it hot or cold. You can also mix it into refreshing sodas or let it give a new twist to your cocktails. 

Karen Attman

Karen Attman

The Coffee Lady

Karen Attman is a published author and specialty coffee expert. Otherwise known as the coffee lady, Karen is the Latin American Coffee Academy founder and has previously written about coffee for CNN, Sprudge, and Eater.