Cascara Chocolate and Vietnam Specialty Coffee

Posted on Jan 19, 2017

James Hoffmann, World Barista Champion in 2007, author of “The World Atlas of Coffee: From Beans to Brewing – Coffees Explored, Explained and Enjoyed” shared a great recepie for making Cascara Chocolate on his blog.

Cascara is a type of tea made from dried coffee husk - preserved after the process of separating coffee seeds from cherries. Some of the best varietals of coffee have high sugar content in its cherry’s flesh, giving Cascara a harmonious balance between acidity and sweetness.

On a second thought, this video brings back memories about my trip to Da Lat in 2016, which turned into an long, unexpected journey about coffee, people, and the charming city of Da Lat.

Here are some of my favourite snapshots:

Pacamara coffee skin after depulping (separating seeds from skin) at Uncle Son's farm, Da Lat

Uncle Son test roasting some Pacamara

The 'coffee lab'

Yellow Bourbon farm at one of The Married Bean's farmer coops. Coffee flowers blossomed immediately one day after the first season rain. Occuring only once a year, this is the make-or-break period, when rain season peaks from June - October. Coffee flowers can self-pollinate, but require a high level of moisture to fully develop into cherries. The first rain triggers blossoming, but if followed by a prolonged period without rainfall and necessary moisture, flowers will not fully develop into cherries or fall off, hugely impact the season's harvest.

Another coffee lab - La Viet Coffee, Da Lat

Khanh from La Viet coffee showing us the basics of making a good espresso

Learning basic cupping techniques with my childhood friend - Hieu at La Viet coffee. Cupping is one of the most important skills of a coffee artisan. Similar to wine, Specialy Coffee is identified by their different notes of acids, florals, earth, wood, nuts, ... depending on the varietal, where and how coffee is is grown, how cherries are harvested, how coffee beans are processed, stored and roasted. Each step in the process contributes to the final cup of coffee.

Great shot of us by Khanh

Catimore cherriers in Pastor Thanh's coffee garden - Cau Dat Church, Trai Mat. He uses a small piece of land behind the church as a playground to share his cultivation methods with coffee farmers in the area.

Requiring balanced conditions that most of the time can only be achieved on moutainous areas (900m or higher above sea level) locating near the equator (called the coffee belt) where there is enough rainfall, moisture and stable temperature throughout the year, it's common that coffee farms are situated at steep locations, making the job of nuturing and harvesting coffee even more challenging. The best quality coffee cherries have to be picked at the correct ripeness. While cherries on the same coffee tree ripe at different rates and there are yet machines that can accurately handle this task, harvesting specialty coffee is a delicate labour and has to be done by hand throughout the harvest season. Photo of Bang's parents farm in Trai Mat, Cau Dat.

Fermenting and drying coffee beans at Vuong's farm - Da Lat. Photo by Ms. Minh - owner of Minh Tu JSC.

With the help of The Married Beans, we took leaves and soil samples from 2 farms and send them for nutrient and mineral content analysis. The result will reflect soil's depletion levels, help setting up next year's cultivation plans.

Here are contact info to my favourite coffee destinations in Da Lat. They are all young passionate men and women who are committed to raise awareness, educate and help building a different future for coffee.

Special thank to Will Frith for answering our emails and sharing contacts at the start of our journey.

Last but not least, this learning experience would not have been possible without, Hieu - who shared the whole journey with me and Bang - the coolest friend I have made in Da Lat.

Me, Bang and Hieu test roasting Ethiopia Yirgacheffe coffee at Choi's place. Choi is the most enthusiastic coffee lover that I have the pleasure to meet.

Bang, who owns the place, crafting leathers in a rainy day with Hieu at D.A.B Corner.

My favourite spot in Da Lat: D.A.B Corner. Expect surprise hiphop dance-off shows or insane skateboard skills from these talented kids.

Solitude at the Tea Hill - Cau Dat Farm

Hieu next to his bike in our camping night near Suoi Vang.

At the Langbiang's Peak, more than 2100m above sea level

P.S Coffee Roasteries in Ho Chi Minh City

If you happen to be in Ho Chi Minh City and would like to have some of the best coffee in town, do pay a visit to Shin Coffee and Bosgaurus Coffee. Besides coffee from Vietnam, they import and roast the best coffee assortments from around the world.