Lazy Bear Tea is a socially and environmentally inspired beverage company brewing teas from cascara, the dried coffee fruit.
I suspect that, like me, you drink coffee…lots of coffee. But, also like me, you’ve probably never held a coffee fruit in your hand. The coffee bean that we are familiar with is the seed of the coffee fruit. And, just like a plumb, peach, or cherry, coffee fruit has a skin and flesh that surrounds the seed. The coffee fruit is known as cascara, the Spanish word for husk. We know what happens with the coffee bean, but what about the husk?
Cascara is commonly a wasted byproduct of coffee production. Lazy Bear Tea purchases cascara to brew into cascara tea, doubling farmer incomes while improving the environment. Cascara is a delicious and nutritious base for beverages traditionally consumed in some coffee-growing countries. Using cascara in beverages not only diverts waste from the ecosystem but also creates additional and meaningful sources of income for coffee farmers.
Coffee is one of the most highly traded agricultural commodities globally, yet most coffee farmers live in poverty. These farmers grow millions of hectares of coffee fruit, often selling the bean for low prices due to limited market access. While direct and fair trade has emerged to address issues of access, a vast income gap still exists for most coffee farmers.
Coffee production yields millions of tons of wasted cascara that is left behind after the inner beans are collected and sold. With no market for the cascara, the fruit piles up, is dumped into waterways, and can pollute local ecosystems. It’s estimated that each hectare of coffee creates 2.25 tons of cascara waste each year. This fruit contributes to 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.
When Lazy Bear Tea purchases cascara, coffee farmers harvest once but profit twice. This means an incredible boost to farmer livelihoods with a minor change to their existing farming practices.
Lazy Bear’s cascara teas are brewed with natural, simple ingredients to celebrate the exceptional flavor and nutrition of the coffee fruit. These teas are like traditional beverages brewed and consumed at home in places like Yemen and Bolivia for hundreds of years, but until now not commercialized in mass markets in a ready-to-drink (RTD) format.
Daniela Uribe’s Early Start to Entrepreneurship
Daniela grew up in Pereira, Colombia. “I spent endless days playing in the streets with friends,” she explains. “One of our favorite things to do was come up with ways to make a little money to buy ice cream and other treats after school. We created dozens of businesses out of our parents’ kitchens and living rooms, so I guess I’ve had an entrepreneurial knack for a while!”
Daniela spent her childhood weekends with cousins on coffee farms and got to know about coffee production. “Colombia was still suffering from a great deal of violence in my childhood,” she says. “The obvious inequality of our society was evident and painful even to a child. I’ve been dreaming of ways to be useful in the world since I can remember. As I child I would find small ways to make a difference. It was particularly inspiring for me to see my mom’s dedication to our community and her own sense of responsibility to be of use was deeply ingrained in me.”
When Daniela was a teenager, she and her mother moved to Washington, D.C. as political asylees. Still, Daniela wanted to make a difference. “I tried the academic research route briefly as an undergraduate with ambitions to get a Ph.D. and help make sense of what was happening through research,” she explains. “It simply did not work for me. I wanted to be closer to the ‘real world,’ co-envisioning solutions.”
The Drink that Made the Difference
Although Daniela grew up in a coffee-growing family in Colombia, she had never had cascara tea. Then a cousin brought her cascara to try. “I looked at him like he was crazy. What do you mean, the trash that piles up on the farm? You want me to drink this?”
However, it was love at first sip. “The first time I tried the tea I was blown away,” she exclaims. “Something that tasted that good had the potential to change the life of farmers and lessen the contamination of waterways near coffee farms.”
Daniela wondered about the commercial viability of cascara. Around this same time, Starbucks and Blue Bottle Coffee introduced cascara-based drinks to their menus. “That’s when I knew we were onto something bigger. I bought a few pounds of cascara, started brewing concoctions after work” Daniela recruited her life-partner, Drew Fink, and one of Drew’s classmates, Erik Ornitz. They rented space in a commercial kitchen called Commonwealth Kitchen.
To sell the first few bottles of their cascara tea, Daniel put a few bottles into a cooler, strapped it on her back and rode her bicycle from shop to shop. “Those first few stores allowed us to do in-store demos and tell people more about our company and mission. It was those first few people we spoke with who would become the pioneer customers and backers of our vision for Lazy Bear Tea.”
Learning as They Go
“There are lots of things to keep track of and learn as you get started: health permits, scaling recipes, learning industry terms,” Daniela explains. “We had to learn that our initial customers were not the people who would eventually buy and drink our tea, but rather the gatekeepers to those individuals, like store owners, buyers, cafe managers.”
Daniela learned that store owners might not share their passion for helping coffee farmers. “They may not share the same priorities or values we had created our product around. We had to create new sales materials and pitches that would resonate with them. We had to understand the motivations of many different players that are critical to your success as a food business.”
As Lazy Bear Tea is scaling past their first city into the Northeastern United States, they have had to continue to learn. “Learning how to go from proof of concept to scaling even at a very small stage. How to activate distributors, plan out production, make projections, etc.”
The Reward in the Journey
“Getting up every morning and knowing I will face a new set of challenges and questions to solve,” Daniela describes. “Not knowing what is ahead yet having clear purpose and vision is a really exciting place to be in at this point in my career and life.
“Today, there is a limited supply of dried, processed cascara, which makes our supply chain development work critical. We have already begun to build our supply chain in Colombia where we are working with the Coffee Growers Federation to meet demand from Lazy Bear Tea and other buyers. Furthermore, we will pool cascara production by working with a community wet mill project in the town of Belen de Umbria working with dozens of female coffee growers. This model significantly streamlines the collection and drying process and improves the quality of the cascara sourced. We will also be activating new retail partners and regions to boost sales and exposure to our brand and mission.”
Daniela’s Lessons Learned
Daniela had this advice for early-stage social entrepreneurs. “Solidify your passion and conviction very early on. Use that passion to recruit a small circle of supporters who will be there to support you and productively challenge you along the way. Running a small business is really hard work with daily ups and downs. While you know the problems you are solving matters and your solution is worth a shot, there will be countless people who will stand in the way of your success. Tapping into your passion and the clear reasons you are doing what you are doing will keep you doing what you must do.”
Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Daniela Uribe:
Social Entrepreneurship Resources:
- Lazy Bear Tea: https://www.lazybeartea.com
- Lazy Bear Tea on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lazybeartea
- Lazy Bear Tea on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lazybeartea
- Lazy Bear Tea on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LazyBearTea
- CommonWealth Kitchen: http://www.commonwealthkitchen.org/
- Book: Crazy Good Advice: 10 Lessons Learned from 150 Leading Social Entrepreneurs: https://tonyloyd.com/book