“The general sentiment with Strange Magic is that it's really delicious—and people are really into it—but nobody knows what it is.”
That basically sums up our conversation with Brent Wolczynski, Stumptown’s Head of Cold Brew.
Combining chemistry and curiosity, Brent is Stumptown’s alchemist-in-residence, often found in his lab testing new ways of working with coffee. Having developed crowd favorite Oatly Cold Brew (as well as the beverage du jour), Brent is part artist, part scientist, and—as our conversation confirmed—part magician.
Ok, Brent. Let’s jump right into it. How did the idea of Strange Magic come about?
Brent: So, several years before Strange Magic was developed, we had the idea of partnering with another Cold Brew company to do a unique collab. We connected with Slingshot, from North Carolina, and wondered together what it would be like if we took the roasted coffee bean and blended it with the brewed fruit—in a sense, putting the coffee plant "back together."
The result was a really cool collab product—very limited release—and people were excited about it. It was a bit of a polarizing flavor, but the idea was confirmed: people are intrigued by cascara. And I knew I wanted to do more with it.
For those that don’t know, can you explain what cascara is?
Brent: Yeah, so the coffee we know today is the roasted seed of a fruit, called a coffee cherry. Cascara is the fleshy part of the fruit that surrounds the coffee bean. Normally, when coffee is picked and processed at source, the fruit is picked off the plant and separated from the seed. The fruit part has historically then been discarded or composted. Cascara is the skin part of the coffee cherry after it's dried. We're not the first to experiment with it—people have made everything from tea to baking flour with cascara—but I think maybe we were the first to make a soda that really leans into the wild flavors cascara has to offer.
So yes, how did you decide to make a soda?
Brent: Well, there are certain flavors that typically play well with coffee and milk. But cascara is really unique and opens a whole new channel of profiles to play with. I tried sweet cascara—the flavor of cascara on its own is a little bit like dried fruit, no surprise there—and it was unique, but not that refreshing. At some point in the process, the concept of a soda hit me. Stumptown has always embraced an ethos of "highbrow meets lowbrow." I thought, "Maybe this could be the lowbrow part.”
How is Strange Magic made?
Brent: I like to keep the blend of flavors a bit of a mystery, so we don’t point your palate in any one direction. But we steep it similarly to how we do our cold brew coffee, just with cascara (instead of coffee beans) and a different water ratio. Then we mix in our special "secret formula," add carbonation, and then can it right here in our facility. Then it goes off to be pasteurized, which is basically just a process in which the product is heated to ensure it stays safe for consumption while not refrigerated.
And... the result?
Brent: I mean, personally, I love it. But I'm biased. Everyone who tastes it gets something else from it. It’s technically still a coffee—it’s derived from the coffee plant—but it really doesn't taste anything like the coffee most people know. Some people taste Coca Cola. Some people taste unsweetened fruity pebbles. One notable quote was that "It's like muscle confusion for the palate." I mean, it's called Strange Magic, so that kind of seems fitting.
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