Riff Cold Brewed, a ready to drink beverage maker in the coffee space, recently released its new Alter Ego beverage, an innovative line extension that uses coffee fruit—not coffee beans—to insert itself into the increasingly diverse RTD beverage aisle.
The drink is made from cascara, the dried coffee “cherry” that’s left behind once the beans are harvested. Cold brewed and carbonated, Alter Ego is a slightly-sweet alternative to the super sugary drinks that are common in grocery stores and gas stations, with 6g of sugar, 35 calories, and 105mg of caffeine—roughly the same amount as a small cup of coffee.
You may have tasted cascara at a hip coffee shop. Prepared like a tisane or tea, it’s known for its fruity flavor, a subtle sweetness, and a mild acidic tang.
We spoke to Paul Evers, Co-Founder and CEO of Riff, about how this product fits into the greater strategy of Riff: “We see the opportunity as consumers are seeking more natural, clean-label alternatives,” he said. “It’s positioned as a sparkling coffee tea.”
In coffee producing countries, spent coffee cherries are sometimes used as compost or sold to exporters to be distributed as tea in the United States, but more often than not, they end up in massive piles at the end of the farm, left to rot.
“We remove harmful environmental impact from rotting cascara that creates methane and toxins that leak into the soils,” Paul explained. “This allows farmers to turn their spent cherries into a new revenue stream. It can be a good uplift for mostly family-owned farms.”
With the c-market price for coffee beans left at under $1 per pound for over a year, the global coffee industry is in crisis. Millions of coffee producers aren’t turning a profit this year. Being able to monetize cascara, a byproduct that’s typically been considered waste, can help make up that difference for farmers.
Riff Cold Brewed isn’t the first company to try bringing cascara into the mainstream. Raleigh’s Slingshot Coffee released the first RTD cascara product back in 2013, and was quickly followed by both industry leaders and startups like Stumptown and Caskai.
But Paul’s confident the growing competition isn’t too big of a problem: “Many existing cascara products over-extract from the cherry, so the end result is too heavy and strong. Our product is light and refreshing.” The drink’s smoothness also makes it a great base layer for further innovation, so Paul also is exploring launching new flavors from juice concentrates, like stone fruit, berry, or ginger.
As someone who’s tried cascara from several origin countries—tasting flavors I didn’t expect, from honey to lime to bell peppers—I was curious how Riff would handle the diverse range of flavors of cascara. Paul sent me a few cans so I could find out. The first thing I noticed was the cascara’s natural fruitiness, which is similar to that of a cherry or red berry and slightly sweet. The natural mild acidity, enhanced by the carbonation, added a citrus note that made me think of a fruit-infused lemonade. It was smooth, refreshing, and delicate.
The Original Alter Ego is now available in stores across the Pacific Northwest at $2.99 SRP for a 12fl oz can. However, it’s also Riff Cold Brewed’s first product that can be shipped at ambient temperatures, thanks to improved pasteurization processes, making it ripe for direct-to-consumer sales via the company’s website.