Citrus and coffee have a long history together. Whether it’s serving espresso with lemon peel like they do in Italy, or last year’s trend of mixing iced coffee with lemonade into an Arnold Palmer of sorts, there is something about the combination that works. The latest innovation in the coffee world? Keeping the citrus and upping the ante by adding carbonation. Four different companies have rolled out sparkling coffee (or coffee soda, depending on who you ask) with a citrus component this year. Whether you’re looking for an alternative to cold brew, energy drinks, or flavored seltzer, this new pick-me-up is something to consider.
Nashville sensation Matchless is the brainchild of longtime barista Nathanael Mehrens and the only one of the group without citrus juice in it. Coffee is first flash-chilled, which means it’s brewed hot then very quickly brought down to a colder temperature. It’s then carbonated and mixed with citric acid and demerara sugar. Mehrens says, "Carbonated coffee doesn't taste good on its own, and if you just add sugar, it's too sweet. You need the citric acid to balance out the bitterness from the coffee and the sweetness from the sugar. Coffee is like whiskey -- you can have a beautiful expression of it by itself, but you can also create something new with it, like a balanced cocktail, that's great in its own right."
Mehrens recommends serving the resulting concoction with citrus peel (he uses orange at his coffee shops) because “it builds on that refreshing quality. Having a garnish to finish the drink like you would with a cocktail makes it feel more complete.” After its introduction in 2012, the drink quickly gained a cult following in Nashville. While it’s currently only available on tap at local cafes and restaurants, Matchless is going national -- they recently launched a Kickstarter to get their coffee soda into cans. The campaign runs until the end of August, and the first cans should be available in December. matchlesscoffeesoda.com
The origin story of this made-in-Brooklyn sparkling coffee starts with a Sodastream experiment going awry at the branding agency where founders Thi Lam and Brent Lagerman worked. One explosion in an all-white office and countless flavor combinations later, they landed on the pairing of coffee and citrus and decided to transition to the startup beverage life in 2016. Lam and Lagerman tinkered with their coffee soda recipe until they arrived at the current iteration: flash-chilled coffee, three types of citrus juice (tangerine, lemon, and lime), tangerine oil, and organic cane sugar. Lam says, “What sets us apart is how we pair the fruit and coffee. Coffee itself is essentially a fruit; there’s a fruit that grows around the bean, and depending on the location, elevation, and soil, it has different flavor notes. We sample hundreds of varieties and choose the one that’s most citrusy, and that’s why Keepers tastes like a single harmonious flavor.”
The branding aspect was, of course, the easy part. The design couldn’t be more of-the-moment (it has millennial pink!), and Lam and Lagerman named their drink Keepers because it’s “easy to say, easy to read, and evokes all the good qualities you take home to your mom.” Lam sees sodas as a natural progression in the coffee industry. He says, “If you look at the coffee culture, it’s been nudging the public towards this for the last five years; cold brew got oversaturated, then nitro brews, then draft lattes, and now we’re looking for what’s next.” keepers.co
Founder Mache Barwinski’s eureka moment happened on a ski trip in 2015. Bored of the cold brew he would schlep up the mountain, he wanted to find a way to make coffee as refreshing as possible and for it to include electrolytes and antioxidants. Barwinski concocted a sparkling citrus coffee that he called "backcountry lemonade," and after a successful test run (he ran a makeshift lemonade stand in the Tetons), he quit his job as an architect to work on Upruit. "Backcountry lemonade" evolved into the Brooklyn-based company's flagship drink, which combines cold brew, Meyer lemon juice, organic maple syrup, and Himalayan pink salt. Barwinski says, “In essence, it's an energy drink -- it's naturally caffeinated, it's carbonated, which makes you absorb the caffeine faster, and it has electrolytes." Upruit’s second flavor adds antioxidants to the mix in the form of tart cherries -- they’re teamed with the same cold brew and salt, as well as some Fuji apple.
Barwinski’s goal is to “enhance people’s passions, whether it’s camping or going to concerts. Unlike other energy drinks, we want Upruit to be associated with something you love doing rather than helping you finish a task.” As for the sparkling coffee category itself, he firmly believes it's here to stay: “Everyone’s using a different brush for the same concept, which is great. I don’t think sparkling coffee is going to go away. It seems like such an inevitable evolution of coffee. Coffee has such an anchored presence in the world, and people like innovation. There are trends, but if you offer something truly unique, it’ll stick around.” drinkupruit.com
The Portland-based coffee roaster came up with their version of sparkling coffee while developing new cold brew options for their recently opened cafe in New Orleans. It was received so well by the locals that Stumptown decided to make it available as a ready-to-drink item in all of their locations. There are three varieties in the current lineup: the original, which is comprised of cold brew produced in Portland, concentrated lemon juice, and cane sugar; honey lemon, which swaps out the sugar for Bee Local honey from Oregon's High Desert; and ginger citrus, which amps up the coffee with ginger juice and extract, lime juice, and orange oil. Marketing director Mallory Pilcher says, “It has less caffeine than our regular cold brew, so it’s a better way to drink coffee in the afternoon. It’s also just more fun -- it’s effervescent and has an interesting mouthfeel and flavor profile. It’s perfect for soda or flavored latte fans who are open to trying something different that will still satiate the need for caffeine and sweetness.” stumptowncoffee.com