WHY I LEFT MY JOB TO START LAZY BEAR TEA
I loved the taste of cascara after I tried it for the first time in 2016 (despite having grown up in a coffee-growing family!). Later that year, my cofounders and I saw big players in the coffee world paying attention to cascara, with drinks like Starbucks’ cascara latte and Blue Bottle Coffee’s cascara fizz popping up all over our feeds. This is when we first thought “what if we could build a company that used cascara to brew something that is delicious, low in sugar, and at the same time had as a mission to help divert as much coffee fruit waste as possible and by doing so increase farmers’ income?” (Okay, maybe I'm paraphrasing a bit) Was that too much to ask of a bottle of tea? Perhaps it was, but if there was a bottle of tea to pull it off it would be a bottle of cascara. Our cascara tea. Since those days we have shifted our format to dried cascara tea to brew at home, but you get the picture.
We’re not talking about just a small pile of coffee cherries going to waste, or some few small cents added to a farmer’s income. The more we dug into the challenges, the more opportunity we saw to build something that mattered.
To understand where the challenges and opportunities come from, let’s take a quick look at coffee.
Coffee rules, farmers (usually) lose
A ubiquitous part of most morning routines, coffee is one of the most traded commodities globally. We drink 1.5 billion cups of coffee every day around the world, many of them at $3-5 each, a steep price when a pound of green coffee (which yields ~25 cups) provides less than one dollar to the farmer. Novel forms of coffee, like cold brew and nitrogen-infused coffee, have further increased the demand and introduced new consumers to coffee. Coffee is everywhere, and it is not expected to go away anytime soon.
And while new brands and cafes pop up to meet our demand, the vast majority of coffee farmers live in poverty, struggling to access markets and get a fair price for their beans. Admirable and effective models of direct and fair trade have emerged to address this disparity, but a vast gap still exists for most.
Simultaneously, coffee production yields millions of tons of waste every year in the form of coffee fruit. Why fruit? As we have written before, coffee beans are in fact seeds found within a bright red or sometimes yellow coffee cherry. When beans are collected from within, the remaining fruit is left to pile up and rot (see photo of me with a pile of coffee cherry waste below!), is dumped into nearby waterways, an in some cases composted and used as fertilizer. The first two practices are highly polluting to local ecosystems, from emissions as the waste decomposes and as water runoff. It’s estimated that each hectare of coffee creates 2.25 tons of coffee fruit waste each year, and this fruit contributes 75% of the water pollution associated with coffee production. With over 10 million hectares of coffee globally, there are over 20 million tons of waste each year. And as you know by this point, we have a radical idea:
COFFEE FRUIT WASTE IS NO WASTE AT ALL
Inspired by tradition
And let’s set the record straight- we’re not the only ones who think so. In Yemen a traditional beverage called Qishr, brewed with coffee fruit and spices, has been a staple longer than the coffee beverage we know today. In Bolivia, sultana is an infusion of coffee cherries also popularly known as “the poor man’s coffee”. So, it’s not new to the world, but it is new to a vast majority of consumers. Many of them don’t even know that coffee beans grow inside a fruit.
So meet cascara, the “third wave coffee” name for the coffee cherry, coined by legendary coffee grower Aida Batlle over a decade ago. She had an “ah-ha!” moment and decided the product needed a new name, and cascara it was!
Childhood memories guide us forward
Cascara means husk or peel in Spanish, and in this case, that refers to the husk of the coffee cherry. Yet it is a lot more than the husk, it is the fruit with all its goodness that is left behind. If you have ever visited a coffee farm before, you are familiar with this fruit and will find it hard to forget the vibrant colors on a coffee plant or the smell and taste of the ripe fruit right off the tree. As a young girl, I would pick them as bright red as I could find and eat them 2 or 3 at a time, careful not to bite into the coffee beans. Those memories came back immediately when I took my first sip of cascara tea, and I haven’t looked back since.
I hope you join us on this Lazy Bear Tea journey and take part in a movement to enjoy every part of an exceptional plant.