Coffee experimentation is all the rage nowadays. From innovative new brewing methods to new flavour combinations, there’s never been a better time for trailblazing individuals to test the limits of what’s possible. If coffee is an artform, then it seems we’re entering a Modernist period.
In the past few years or so, a few companies have brought their experiments to the market. We’ve had cold-brew become almost mainstream, now being served in Starbucks as part of their regular menu. More recently some nonconformists (like Sandows) realised that if you infuse cold-brew with nitrogen you get a smooth silky coffee which manages to keep all the nuanced flavours. Where do you go from here?
Well, the Portland-based coffee roaster Stumptown has attempted to answer that question, introducing their new Sparkling Cold-Brew to the world. While I was in California recently I decided I needed to give it a go, so I ordered their sample pack.
You get three flavours: Honey Lemon, Ginger Citrus, and Original. Each comes in a generous 355ml can, and to make the drink more refreshing they’ve sweetened it with natural cane sugar.
When you take that first sip, you wonder how your brain managed to trick you into thinking this was a good idea.
The fruity cold-brew taste is definitely there. However to my palate the carbonation process created a strong acidic tang (the same kind you get from sparkling water), which competes with the coffee and creates the sense of the drink having curdled. After a few sips I couldn’t take any more and I tipped the rest of the drink away.
In the same way that hearing a song that once had emotional poignancy to you can ruin or make a moment, the taste of the sparkling cold-brew managed to work its destructive magic forward in time, calling itself to mind every time I’ve tried to drink regular cold-brew since. Maybe sparkling cold-brew is an acquired taste, like olives. Although, I really don’t like olives.
Rather than attempting to acquire the taste, I continued my search for the ultimate fizzy coffee.
I have a special soft-spot for Japanese culture, and when I visited last year I found their numerous coffee-serving vending machines (called jidouhanbaiki) indispensable for pulling me through my jet-lag. Recently I got wind of the latest big thing in Japanese canned coffee—Coca Cola Coffee Plus. Due to my blind obsession I pushed aside my past experience and found a company selling it in the UK.
The can is significantly smaller at 190ml, which is the standard size of jidouhanbaiki coffee. There’s surprisingly less sugar in here than the Stumptown sparkling cold-brew, however this is padded with sweetener.
The experience is much less jolting than with the sparkling Stumptown. The Coke’s sweetness overpowers any acidity from the carbonation. The first mouthful essentially tastes of the green Coca-Cola Life that was scrapped earlier this year.
As this initial flavour fades, you’re left with a nostalgic taste of those hard-boiled coffee sweets (turns out Mashable felt the same way and identified these as Kopiko). However the more you drink, the cheaper it tastes, and by the end you’re imagining you picked up discount cola from Lidl (probably when you went in to buy the Kopiko).
It’s no surprise the coffee Coca-Cola is more successful than Stumptown’s sparkling cold-brew. Coke forms the base instead of coffee, which overrides the part of your brain that says, “This should not be fizzy”. I’m still glad Stumptown tried something new, and their nitro cold-brew is fantastic.
Ultimately however, the sparkling coffee experiment has not left me convinced. As a morning coffee person, there isn’t really a place in my day for these beverages and until significant steps are made towards a good-tasting product, I’m sticking to what I know.
Have you tried one of the sparkling coffees in this article, or something even more experimental? Was it a success? We’d love to know. Join in the conversation on social media or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.