FARGO — After a decade of perfecting them, the Fargo makers of ORAC cascara teas are at last finding their product for sale at local retailers.

“It’s kind of a proud moment,” said Rob Mastel, who co-founded the beverages with his business partner, Ryan Triepke.

Made from cascara fruit, which comes from the coffee cherry, it was traditionally discarded after the coffee bean had been harvested. Cascara has proven to have an incredibly high antioxidant capacity, Mastel said.

The sun-dried cascara cherry husks are shipped from Nicaragua. Special to The Forum
The sun-dried cascara cherry husks are shipped from Nicaragua. Special to The Forum

“This is something that’s good for you,” he said, “and you don’t have to feel guilty about it.”

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The three permanent flavors, sold singly in cans, are available at area Hornbacher’s grocery stores, as well as both Fargo locations of Bully Brew Coffee. There are two seasonal flavors, which will be introduced this coming spring and fall, as well.

The health factor was the main reason the pair labored for a decade to come up with just the right blend.

“I was a heavy pop drinker, and I was experiencing high liver enzymes.," Triepke said. "We couldn’t figure out why."

Triepke reduced his sugar intake by quitting the pop, he said, and started drinking water all day, but he yearned for something more. He was brewing tea at night, experimenting with various loose leafs, because he didn’t want refined sugar or sugar substitutes.

“My go to was always honey,” Triepke said. “There aren’t any beverages sweetened only with honey.”

Mastel was finding the same thing, and he was also drinking a lot of water.

“Primarily because everything I found was laced with so many different chemicals,” Mastel said. “I really didn’t want to put them in my body.”

Cascara tea ended up being the surprise recipe of their success. For one thing, Mastel said, it’s not only good to drink, but it’s ingredients are pure.

Reverse osmosis water, cold-brewed with the coffee cherry originally shipped sun-dried from Nicaragua, organic lemon juice and honey are the sole ingredients in the original flavor.

“It’s an unique flavor,” Triepke said.

The orange and lime versions have that one additional flavor ingredient.

It was a kitchen recipe, one handed out to countless family members and friends for taste-testing to get it just right, that led to the current incarnation.

“We brewed over 300 gallons in our kitchens,” Triepke said. “I was giving bottles of it to friends. I was brewing gallons for the neighbor down the street. I started brewing it for people at the gym. Honestly, it got to be a lot of work. My kitchen was a mess.”

ORAC teas were developed in Fargo. Special to The Forum
ORAC teas were developed in Fargo. Special to The Forum

Although it was developed in Fargo, when it came time to get serious about commercially producing the tea, the founders had to seek out a co-packing plant to make, bottle and package their product.

“We had to go through a lot of FDA regulations and the nutrition panel. That was a long process," Triepke said. "It took us two-and-a-half years to get to this point.”

The challenge, Mastel said, was finding a co-packing plant willing to steep 1,000 gallons of tea with honey instead of using syrup, which is much easier but would defeat the original impetus to develop the healthy brew. After scouting across the nation, a plant was found in Baltimore, Md.

“It was harder than you think,” Mastel said.

It was considerably easier getting the teas on the shelves of local retailers. Triepke said they met with Bully Brew Coffee owner Sandi Luck on Jan. 1, 2020, and the one taste was all it took.

“She put them in two Bully Brew locations here in Fargo and some in Grand Forks,” Triepke said.

Luck said she was amazed at their first meeting.

“I loved every single one of them,” Luck said. “We actually put them in stores that same day.”

The trial went well.

“They created some loyal tea drinkers at a couple of the locations,” Luck said.

By the end of April, after meeting with the product development manager, Hornbacher’s agreed to sell Orac teas as well. They landed on their shelves a little over a month ago.

So far, reception of the teas, as well as sales, have gone well.

“When you see other people enjoying it,” Mastel said, “you’re thinking, ‘Good, I’m glad I brought that to people.’”

For more information visit https://oracbeverages.com/