This is a story about sustaining indigenous communities, empowering women, reducing waste, craft and the future of food. This is Cascara Kombucha; the story of how it is produced and how it differs from other kombuchas.
If you’re not totally familiar with the process of coffee harvesting and processing, coffee is a seed that grows on trees which bear fruit commonly termed cherries. After harvesting, cherries are processed using either a dry (often referred to as natural processing) or wet method which is referred to as washed coffee. In both scenarios, the coffee bean is removed using a pulping machine that squeezes it out and separates it from the cherry skins. Translated, this cherry skin peel is Cascara in Spanish.
Freshly pulped coffee cherry skins straight off the coffee pulper at Neknasi Coffee Growers Cooperative in Papua New Guinea.
Cascara at origin
For the most part many coffee farmers consider the pulp a byproduct of coffee production that they often leave to decompose. This was something our Managing Director Mike picked up on during successive origin visits to Papua New Guinea; he noticed that the coffee farmers never considered the cherry husks as being of value.
Having tasted Cascara from other coffee-producing regions, it was during an origins visit in 2017 that Mike first demonstrated Cascara's potential value to cooperatives. Much to the amusement of the farmers, he collected fresh pulped cherry skins, drying them off in the sun. He then prepared Cascara tea — brewing both hot and carbonated versions, explaining how this byproduct could create additional income for the farmers, their families and the cooperatives. Although there was some interest from the coffee farmers, none of the cooperatives seemed that interested in considering Cascara. Thankfully there was one person on the trip that did take an interest — Debbrah Yassah, an extension officer for the Papua New Guinea government-run Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC).
Mikes first attempts at sun-drying coffee cherry pulp to create cascara created great amusement among PNG coffee farmers at a 2017 Coffee Training Programme.
Freshly picked coffee cherry ready for pulping – this is always done the same day the coffee is harvested from the tree.
Empowering the women farmers of Papua New Guinea
Mike provided Debbrah with all his notes, brew guides and methodologies for harvesting and solar-drying the coffee cherry to create Cascara — and then made sure he kept in touch. Later that year Debbrah contacted Mike as she had been selling Cascara at local markets in the city of Lae. Since receiving positive encouragement from her superiors at CIC for her initiative, Debbrah partnered with women farmers from the Sikilan Village of the Neknasi Coffee Cooperative in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. Together these women collect, sun-dry and bag coffee pulp for transportation to Lae.
Debbrah Yassah – Papua New Guinea Cascara Entrepreneur & Pioneer.
Mike Murphy from Kōkako discusses future opportunities for the Neknasi Coffee Growers Cooperative with its Chairman Moung Bungun at the coop’s administration office in the Eastern Highlands of PNG.
In August 2018 Mike and Kōkako Head Roaster Sam McTavish headed back to Lae, Papua New Guinea and met with Debbrah again. It was at this point we managed to confirm Kōkako's first initial Cascara order. Although it took eighteen months to obtain just eighteen kilograms of Cascara we reckon it was worth it. We sold out of this limited launch pretty quickly and if anything we were more intrigued with the opportunity of Cascara for kombucha beyond brewing tea.
Mikes attempt at creating a local iteration of a Cascara Soda at a Fairtrade coffee producer workshop in Lae, PNG 2017.
Cascara is found somewhere at the intersection of coffee and tea — ideal for farmers who now have this opportunity to provide two crops from the same trees. We wanted to help and show Debbrah and the Neknasi Coffee Cooperative that there was an appetite for Cascara; that we could buy more. This project would also give those involved in the supply chain the confidence to go through with Fairtrade certification, which is no small undertaking. It was at this point our team approached Richard Old from Batchwell.
Batchwell x Kōkako collaboration
Given our ethos, Batchwell Kombucha is everything we're for — organic; their kombucha is handcrafted locally using organic tea blends, steeped in twice-filtered water. And while Batchwell have helped build kombucha awareness amongst the public they have always remained steadfastly committed to the tradition of craft. All their kombucha is raw and unpasteurised. A New Zealand first, Batchwell started with producing flavours fermented using cold-pressed organic fruits and vegetables. With two recent collaborative limited-edition releases — a Sauvignon Grape and Motueka Hops, a Cascara Kombucha continues Batchwell’s commitment to innovation. This Cascara Kombucha project represented an opportunity where we could combine our passion with theirs. And as it would turn out, when Mike and Sam from Kōkako suggested a collaboration, Rich from Batchwell had already been experimenting with Cascara Kombucha while living in Los Angeles.
Cascara is fermented with Batchwell's organic tea blend and kombucha culture to create a raw, unpasteurised juicy brew that is some sort of deceptive deliciousness. Although Cascara comes from the coffee plant, the drink doesn't taste anything like coffee, evoking notes of sour cherry with a long, sweet aftertaste and umami texture. The caffeine content of Cascara Kombucha is nothing like that of coffee either. And so after months of trials, and once we were confident in production, we placed a more significant order with Debbrah and the Neknasi cooperative. We are proud to note that this is also the worlds' first certified Fairtrade Cascara Kombucha!
This is Cascara Kombucha – a collaboration between Kōkako Organic Coffee and Batchwell Kombucha.
Embracing a more circular approach to food
Cascara Kombucha embraces the work of the women farmers of Sikilan Village in Papua New Guinea and the entrepreneurial skills of Debbrah Yassah. With climate change and food insecurity increasing, one of the primary purposes of our origin visits is that we have opportunities to share knowledge and empower our coffee farmers. And so with this project, beyond creating a product, we've created new jobs, another revenue stream for coffee farmers — empowering the women and the indigenous communities of Papua New Guinea. We are keen to embrace this circular approach to producing whilst celebrating waste as a valuable resource for the future.
This is Cascara Kombucha, and we hope a conversation starter; an opportunity to rethink and reimagine the constraints of our current food system. Waste is nothing more than a failure of the imagination!
So if this sounds a bit like you and you're curious, you can pick some up from us here.