We’re living in the golden era of canned coffee. It used to be that the best you could hope for was one of those Starbucks Doubleshots, purchased at a gas station as a last resort for a road trip that wouldn’t take you past any real coffee shops. But canned coffee is getting more interesting these days, with brewers adding carbonation and fruit flavors to their joe.
We have LaCroix to thank for this.
“Consumers moving away from soda still want flavored drinks that have bubbles,” David Sprinkle, a research director for Packaged Facts, said in an interview with Food Business News. They also want drinks that are low in sugar and give them a caffeine boost.
Enter coffee soda: An effervescent cold brew that tastes great over ice in the summer, and provides a fizzy pick-me-up. Matchless, a canned coffee soda brewed in Nashville, Tenn., is one of the leaders in the category: The lightly sweetened coffee has a hint of citrus and would go great in a coffee cocktail. It’s “best served with an expressed citrus peel,” says the can, which is awfully fancy for something that has the retro-cool branding of an old-school beer. Cafello, a company exhibiting at the recent Summer Fancy Foods Show, makes its coffee soda with espresso instead of cold brew (OK it’s bottled, but we’ll allow it). Popular roaster Stumptown has experimented with it, as well.
Some of the new canned coffees don’t taste like coffee at all. SunUp’s green coffee is brewed with unroasted green coffee beans, and the company claims it has more antioxidants than a cup of blueberries. The green coffee has as much caffeine as coffee but tastes like iced tea, which is pleasantly confusing.
Other companies are playing with flavors. Coconut water and coconut milk coffees were among the first — even Trader Joe’s has a canned coconut cream cold brew now. But Loco Coffee Co. has gone a step further with its cold brew and maple water — the byproduct of maple syrup collection. Companies that sell it tout a long list of health claims, but there hasn’t been enough research done yet to determine how much of a benefit humans derive from it. And in coffee, it’s a pretty neutral flavor, adding only a slight bit of sweetness. Loco’s maple water coffee doesn’t taste like maple — it just tastes like a high-quality cold brew.
Then, there are the wilder versions. Vivic sells sparkling coffee with a touch of licorice, or lavender, or sarsaparilla, a flavor that’s akin to root beer. Rise Brewing Co. makes a half-lemonade/half-coffee — kind of like a caffeinated Arnold Palmer. And Upruit is a company with two interesting flavors: tangerine and Himalayan salt, and Montmorency cherry, a type of sour cherry.
We tried the latter, and it was our favorite of the tasting — tart and bubbly, flavored more like a cocktail than a coffee.
All of these alternate coffees are probably a bit too weird for your first cup of the day; they’re better served as an afternoon caffeine jolt.