The Zero Waste Coffee Project

La Cascara Aperitivo - An alcoholic drink with the aromas of the coffee pulp, Germany

The extraction of aromas from cascara, the dried coffee fruit is a new way to make use from a coffee waste or by-product. The aromas are added to an alcohol to make a delicious aperitif.

Hello Constantin, you and your brand-new company LACASCARA in Wiesbaden/Germany have been making headlines with an aperitif recently. Your aperitif is a bit different from others on the market, and in a very short time you have already won several awards.

Yes, that's right! In 2023, Falstaff awarded our LACASCARA 93 points and named it the best aperitif made in Germany. And in 2024, we also won gold at the European Spirits Challenge. We were delighted with both!

At the DLG, an independent testing body, we received the highest score for both LACASCARA and our second drink, a “Spritz”, and were awarded gold twice. We also received an award from Global Liqueur Masters for the outstanding taste of our aperitif.

On your website you write: "We extract the colour and finely balanced aromas from the fruit using our proprietary production process." How you do this is your secret, I assume. Nevertheless, how much of this secret can you tell me?

You're right, of course I can't go into detail. But what I can say is that we extract the cascara flavours using a special process that we developed. It took about 3 years to develop the recipe and a total of 5 years to mature the entire production process.

But at the time you started, cascara was not yet approved as a foodstuff in the EU!

Correct! A roaster friend of ours drew our attention to cascara years ago. Cascara has this bitter-spicy taste on one hand and this totally fruity-sweet taste on the other hand. That was exactly the reason for us to say that cascara is perfect for an aperitif, because I don't know of any other fruit that combines this bitter-spicy and fruity-sweetness at the same time.

We took a close look at cascara and quickly realized that its production and use was not as new as it first seemed, but that it has been used in some coffee-growing countries for centuries.

E. Raoul, for example, reported as early as 1897 in his book "CULTURE DE CAFÉIER" of a fruity, sweet aroma from the cascara. In Colombia, cascara was drunk as tea or used for flavouring early on, but the EU is very cautious and reserved...

Exactly, for example the cascara aroma was used to flavour a Bolivian Singani brandy. It is also known that as early as 1966 absinthe was produced with a distilled cascara flavouring, in 2008 there was a gin in South Africa that was also flavoured with cascara and the company Discarded produces a vermouth that is flavoured with cascara.

So, what we do is basically nothing new, but something quite old that we have rediscovered and developed further. Of course, we are in close consultation with the authorities and laboratories.

According to the Novel Food Regulation, only the use of cascara as a tea in non-alcoholic beverages has been approved since the beginning of 2022. Our special production process was therefore necessary to enable the flavour to be used in our aperitif, i.e. to add it to an alcohol as flavour carrier. With our self-developed production process, we can extract all the fruity, sweet and slightly bitter flavours in their full intensity; how we do this, however, must remain our secret.

In the meantime, I was able to try your Aperitivo, and I have to admit you have a proverbial "sweet" secret!

Thank you very much! We really put a lot of work into this product, but it was worth it.

Depending on the coffee variety, the cultivation and the processing conditions, Cascara has a wide variety of flavours. It must be a challenge for you to always get the same mix of flavours.

No, it actually isn’t. We work with selected cuvées, i.e. blends of different lots, similar to what sparkling wine producers do with grapes, for example. As we have a very close relationship with our producers in Colombia and Peru, we always know what qualities we can expect.

And how do you control these consistent qualities?

We have a sophisticated quality management system. It guarantees that we always receive only top-quality cascara. We also have regular laboratory tests carried out before and after processing, either in the country of origin or in Germany. For example, we check very strictly that no pesticides are used. As all this is of course extremely expensive, we order large batches and well in advance.

We work with a large number of farms to ensure consistent quality. If, for whatever reason, one farm or another is unable to deliver, we will have no problem with the stability of our aroma mix. Even if theoretically all the farms in Peru would suddenly be unable to deliver, we would be able to cushion the blow with cascara from Colombia.

This is also the reason why we have been sourcing our cascara exclusively from South America up to now. Cascara from African countries, for example, which we have tested, did not have the sweetness and fruitiness that we need. Of course, there are many reasons for this, from the harvesting and drying methods to the mechanical separation of the cascara from so-called Naturals. Even small amounts of parchment or silverskin can quickly lead to an undesirable, earthy taste.

It is therefore important that cascara is produced strictly according to our guidelines, as this is the only way to obtain the desired aroma. This includes, for example, gentle, slow drying in the sun and a perfect fermentation process.

Mechanical drying will never give us a high-quality, aromatic taste.

As we want to work as sustainably as possible, we also have other guidelines, such as working in a water-conserving manner on site. Some of our guidelines, as we know, cannot be adhered to by all farms; among other things, we make sure that wherever possible, the workers are employed on a permanent basis.

Which is certainly difficult...

It is difficult. But we can largely ensure this by always paying in advance and placing our orders before the harvest. This gives the farmers security and they can buy the equipment they need and employ workers. Another advantage is of course the fact that there are two harvests per year in Peru and Colombia, which gives us a certain amount of flexibility.

We are also constantly monitoring the stability of the political situations in Peru and Colombia, the impact of climate change, etc., and so it may well be that at some point in the future we will be forced to source cascara from other countries, if circumstances make it necessary. That is part of our safety management.

If you collaborate with a new farm in Colombia or Peru, where do producers need to pay particular attention to in order to meet your flavour-specific quality requirements?

The most important thing is correct fermentation, i.e. hitting the “sweet spot”.
Fermentation develops a sweet aroma; however, if you wait too long, the cascara ferments too much and can turn into a sour vinegar or alcohol taste. It is therefore important to get the timing right to stop the fermentation. And as mentioned before: if everything goes well, cascara has this wonderful balance between bitter-spicy and fruity-sweet, which makes it ideal for the use in an aperitif.

And which ingredients do other aperitif producers use?

Other aperitif producers generally use quinine as a bittering agent. Artificial colourings and preservatives are usually added too. So, the aperitif production is basically quite simple. However, we have set ourselves the goal of making a product without any artificial additives!

So, once you knew how to make your aperitif, and you had developed the recipe and the production process, how did you put all this into operation?

We started by converting a kitchen into an industrial kitchen. After all the approval procedures were finally completed, we produced our first bottles on a small bottling line. We started with 40 litre barrels, then it was 200 litre barrels, and now we are at 20,000 litre barrels.

Initially, we sold all of what we produced in our industrial kitchen regionally. Without doing any marketing, people were literally snatching the bottles out of our hands. We were approached by newspapers, radio and television stations; that was truly something.

In the end, the business went so well that both my partner and I quit our jobs at the end of 2022 and concentrated fully on our aperitif business.

Lisah Dietrich & Constantin Müller, the founder of LACASCARA

While you produce the end product in Germany, the cascara comes from Peru and Colombia. You certainly can't constantly commute back and forth between the three countries. Who takes care of the quality controls on site, of the export etc.?

We have people on site who regularly visit the farms, look after the quality and keep us up to date. They also make sure that the cascara is packed correctly and finally loaded into coffee containers that still have empty spaces.

Can odour contamination occur between coffee and cascara?

Indeed, it can, but only if the packaging is incorrect. Since both the cascara and the coffee are transported in GrainPro or similar bags for aroma and moisture protection, no contamination can occur.

If someone asked you: "What's so special about your aperitif? Why should I buy this one in particular?", what would you reply?

Well, it's the only aperitif with the fruity, tart aromas of cascara. By using cascara, we provide coffee farms with additional, much-needed income and help them to build and maintain a sustainable business. So, there is also a significant social aspect behind our products.

In addition, we do not use any artificial colours, artificial flavours, preservatives or acidifiers, but rely on the natural fruity-tart taste of cascara. This allows us to offer our customers a natural, sustainable alternative in the aperitif sector.

There's a nice German saying: “where there's planing, there's chipping!” Hence the question: what happens to the cascara residues after you have extracted the flavours?

There are a few possibilities that we have in mind. On the one hand, we are testing the use in a bio-gas plant, which could then be used to fuel the distillery. We will also start a small-scale trial to see if it can be used to make a kind of paper, but that is more of a long-term project. Otherwise, not much can be done with the residues, as through our production process almost all the flavouring substances, pectins etc. are gone.

Can you imagine making your Aperitivo in a coffee-growing country one day?

Well, the question is 'Where is my market'? How high are the transportation costs? Or: May I even produce alcohol or alcoholic products in this country? And many more questions.

Our market is initially Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and as long as that is the case, it is more advantageous for us to produce here in Germany. In principle, however, I can imagine a partial outsourcing; perhaps at some point in the future.

Do you have plans for other drinks?

We already have a "Spritz" that we offer in bottles, i.e. LACASCARA ready to drink mixed with Secco, and lots of ideas about what else we could do. There's certainly a lot more to come from us.

Constantin, thank you very much for talking to us!

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