The Zero Waste Coffee Project

Increasing incomes for coffee farmers through low-cost Cascara production

Happy Goat Coffee Company goes to Ethiopia!

As in all countries where Cascara, the dried husk of the coffee cherry, is traditionally consumed (e.g. in the much-cited Yemen and Bolivia), it is also prepared in Ethiopia as a hot, tea-like beverage. Interestingly, this is nowadays mainly the case among ethnic groups that do not grow coffee themselves, such as the Borana in the south, or the small ethnic groups in the deep southwest of the country. The husks of sun-dried coffees (including the underlying mucilage layer and often many fragments of the "parchment layer") reach these ethnic groups from coffee growing areas mostly through traders. An exception is Harar, a primarily sundried coffee growing area in the east of the country, where hojja, as the beverage is called there, is often consumed together with hot milk."*

* Bernhard Lindahl (2005, Local History ofEthiopia, Harar - Hardin), quoting Bradt [Bradt 1995 pp. 181-184]: "A popular drink in Harar is hojja, a kind of tea made from the dried leaves of the coffee tree, served with salt and milk."

 But in the past, Harar was not always the only coffee growing area where the dried pulp was enjoyed; the beverage was once popular in other growing areas too. In Keffa, dried cherry husk (Cascara)called 'Keshoro' was consumed as a beverage.* The reasons why it went out of fashion would be worth exploring.

* Personal note of Moata Raya, QualityDirector & co-owner of CoQua,Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Despite all of this, Cascara has never been an export product in Ethiopia. To begin the process of making Cascara an exportable product, the company I work for, Happy Goat Coffee Company (Ottawa, Canada), applied to the German development agency, GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) through their "Coffee Innovation Fund" for a project to explore the potential of a low-cost production of export quality Cascara. Because of the generally higher complexity of Cascara from washed coffee, we proposed to focus on the use of the pulp, the by-product of the wet coffee processing.

With initial project plans approved in late November 2019, the project was supposed to start at the beginning of the  harvest 2020/21, thus scarcely a year later. Well, since everyone knows well what happened in 2020 (and beyond), the project fluttered away from us and was put in the Pandemic drawer!

But there is still life in this old dog! From a request from GIZ regarding what components of the project could be salvaged based on our project plan, a Cascara training plan at Michiti Coop (our original project counterpart in Keffa), emerged.

Both myself and the team at Happy Goat Coffee of course responded with a proud YES! Together with Co Qua, a local coffee consulting company based in Addis Ababa, a 3-days training for a "cost-effective production of a food-safe Cascara" (this time for both wet and dry preparation), was developed. The goal was, as in our approved project, to support the cooperative in capacity building for the production of Cascara, thereby contributing to product and income diversification.

The 3-day training, strictly oriented to HACCP (Hazard Analysis andCritical Control Points), GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) and specific hygiene guidelines, was conducted in mid-November 2020, during harvest time, and went extremely well. All coop hierarchies were involved in both the theoretical and practical aspects, and nothing seemed to stand in the way of the first small-scale Cascara production. So it seemed...

Long story short: only a few kilograms were produced in the end, and the sample we received suggested ostensibly drying problems, and most likely some“motivational problems”. That is understandable however; Cascara was and is something completely new to the co-op, whose marketing opportunities for this new product are located in the nebulous, not in the realm of the actual coffee world. Hopefully that will change soon. We have submitted a new project…!