Dafé. Rhymes with café, but it’s not coffee and, well, it’s not really like anything I’ve tasted before. Shortly before Christmas, the aroma of a new brand swelled and floated its way across social media, piquing the interest of coffee-lovers everywhere, including myself. However, this isn’t coffee and moreover, it doesn’t contain caffeine, so, what the heck is Dafé, exactly?
Suffice to say that a majority of cyclists, mountain bikers, hikers, ramblers and outdoor enthusiasts are passionate about coffee. There’s just something about the outdoors and fresh quality coffee that seamlessly go hand-in-hand. However, not everyone enjoys the taste of coffee and more so, many people prefer caffeine-free beverages, and this is where Dafé from Date Coffee Co. comes into the spotlight. Founded by Rachael Walker and partner, Roo Fowler, who you’ll probably recognise from Hope Tech Women and the annual Hope Tech women’s enduro, Date Coffee Co. is a concept that’s been long in the making. To find out a little more about the new venture, I chat with the Dafé-dancer herself, Rachael Walker.
So, Rachael, For those who aren’t familiar with you, tell me a little more about yourself.
“In a complete nutshell, I’m a corporate lawyer turned, cyclist, cycling marketing manager, women’s cycling advocate, turned Date Coffee Co. owner and producer.
Cycling, outdoors and health is my absolute passion and have been ever since I can remember. For me, the three passions are interconnected so one doesn’t really work without the other. I spent the last 9 years working in the cycling industry, in a marketing role which primarily focused on mountain bikes. But now, my main focus now is Dafé, spreading the word of all things caffeine-free, running women’s workshops and rides in the south of England, and putting time into my own running and riding adventures wherever possible!“
So, if Dafé isn’t a coffee and it doesn’t contain caffeine, what is it and who is it for?
“Dafé (or date seed coffee as it is sometimes referred to), is made from the roasted up-cycled seeds from dates. It is 100% naturally caffeine-free and prepared in the same way as conventional coffee, for example using a cafetière, Moka pot, espresso etc.
It can be a replacement for coffee/caffeine or enjoyed as a delicious drink in its own right. We like to describe it as a Chocolate Coffee Tea. Meaning it really does sit somewhere between all three drinks. It is made in the same way as conventional coffee, it has a subtle chocolatey taste and has a lighter body similar to tea.
“We genuinely have such a range of customers. From those who want to cut out coffee or reduce caffeine in-take, they will switch to Dafé in the afternoons. For the health conscious, date seeds are scavengers of free radicals and packed with minerals and vitamins. Dafé is also safe for kids to drink, especially when mixed with hot frothy milk, it tastes a little like a healthy hot chocolate!“
As it’s not commonplace on the supermarket shelves, date seed coffee is something I only discovered through Dafé. How did you discover ‘date-coffee’ and what about it made you want to begin Dafé?
“My partner, Roo, visited Lebanon many years ago to take part in a marathon race. Whilst wandering the streets of Beirut, he found a café serving caffeine-free date coffee. Already a little wired from the running and the caffeine gels he’d been taking, something refreshing and caffeine-free was very appealing. Roo loved it and brought some home for me to try. I LOVED it!
In the years since that trip, we tried to buy date coffee online with varying degrees of success. Some sellers offered 100g for as much as £15! As someone who has always believed in the power of a natural diet and looking after the body and mind, it’s always been a bit of a bugbear that healthy alternative foods are usually crazy expensive. Healthy options should be available to the masses at reasonable prices.
We always had the idea of trying to bring date seed coffee to the UK. We believed that if we loved this drink so much there would surely be demand for it elsewhere. Lockdown 1.0 hit early in 2020 where I had lots of time to think and research. I was pregnant and really wanted a caffeine-free drink that I could enjoy during the pregnancy. Many months of emails, planning and testing later, Dafé was born and we took the plunge.“
Being a lover of the outdoors comes with a degree of environmental responsibility. Whether that’s picking up trash from the trails, or being more considerate about the purchases we make. For Rachael and Roo, sustainability is a core principle of Date Coffee Co.
“Dafé has a lower carbon footprint than conventional coffee. The seeds are essentially a by-product of date production. We also get our seeds directly from Tunisia, and while that is still some distance from the UK, it involves significantly fewer air miles than what your normal coffee beans endure. We also use plant-based compostable packaging, including the label which has no plastic. Our bags contain no foil! Whilst there is a trade off between freshness that foil provides coffee and sustainability, we believe sustainability should prevail. We roast three times a week to ensure freshness and recommend popping your Dafé in an airtight container once opened.”
Was it a concern to take the plunge and launch a Date Coffee Co during the pandemic? Don’t get me (and the rest of us) wrong, we’re very happy you did because we get to enjoy Dafé!
“Petrifying and exciting all at once. As someone who has been PAYE their whole adult life, taking the dip to invest pretty much all our savings, set up the business and not have a reliable income was, and still is, totally nerve-racking! But, I believe in our product. I love our product and hopefully, others will too. As cliché as it sounds when one door closes another one always opens. In times of recession and adversity, there are always opportunities, you just have to look a little harder to find them.
The pandemic has certainly made launching a totally new product and brand challenging, particularly with getting the product in front of people and making them aware of it. Word of mouth doesn’t really have the same effect when people aren’t meeting up for coffee and generally socialising.
But there definitely seems to be a real appetite for something that closely resembles coffee, the user gets to enjoy the ritual of coffee without the side-effects that caffeine can give.”
You’ve had loads of love online from happy Daféers, how does it feel to have something you’re passionate about being so well received?
“It still seems a little surreal. I imagine it’s a little like when you write an article then suddenly everyone reads it. It’s a project that I’ve had in my head for so long, then spent so many hours establishing the framework and now it’s out there. I don’t always believe it!
Obviously, we are still a very small business. Some days are busy, some are a little quieter. As a small business, you really appreciate every sale and I definitely do a little Dafé dance each time I hear the sales jingle on my phone!
Hopefully, as more people become aware of Dafé it will continue to grow. For me, it’s less about sales and growth targets, Dafé is a passion project. Since reducing our caffeine in-take and switching to Dafé after our morning coffee, the quality of my partners and my sleep has improved significantly. As someone who has suffered from bouts of insomnia in the past, improved sleep is like winning the World Cup! If Dafé can help others in some small way then in my eyes that makes us a successful business.“
As the dancing queen of Dafé, how do you enjoy yours and do you have any top tips for us to try at home?
“We are bigs fans of an evening Dafé made in the Moka pot (stovetop pot) along with a good dash of Oatily barista milk. It’s refreshing, warm and soothing. Just what you need at this time of year! And friends of ours enjoy an afternoon Dafé Latte, or we’ve even had the Daféccino!“
“Dafé definitely has a more delicate body and flavour than coffee. If you are a regular coffee drinker and are expecting Dafé to have a similar punch, its best to make your Dafé quite strong. Oat milk is delicious with Dafé, but all milk works equally as well. If you’re a fan of ginger, try mixing a little dried ginger in with Dafé in the cafetière or Moka pot!”
With such a fantastic start giving the brand momentum, what’s in store for Dafé this year, and beyond?
“For this year, we’ll continue to focus on building our brand and spreading the Dafé word. We have ideas for some new products in the future but for now, we are keeping things simple and doing Dafé well.“
Dive into the delicious taste of date seed coffee by grabbing yourself a bag of Dafé from the Date Coffee Co website. Don’t forget to give them a follow on social media so you can keep up to date with news and all the behind-the-scenes action.
All photos provided by Dafé, taken by Roo Fowler.