It’s hot, you’re thirsty. What should you reach for? The drink aisle has long been home to a rainbow of Cokes, Snapples, and Arizonas, comforting combinations of sugar and caffeine to get you through the daily grind. But that’s not enough these days. There’s a demand for drinks that are both healthier and more gourmet, with creative flavor combinations and organic ingredients. And so the drink aisles in the Bay Area have swelled, with several new locally made bottled drinks trying to make their way into your fridge and heart, armed with artful packaging, organic labels and promises both humble (good tasting coffee) and grand (improving your gastrointestinal tract). Here are a few options for some novel bottled drinks made locally:
Jittery John’s cold brew is made with chicory root, a trendy choice for high-end coffees these days: Blue Bottle, Stumptown and Chameleon all offer coffees made with chicory, a cousin of endive. Some places, like LA’s famous Sqirl, even serve cups of the root brewed like a tea. But chicory’s inclusion in coffee started as more of a necessity than a choice. The French were the first to cut their coffee with chicory to make it last longer in lean times, and they brought the tradition with them when they settled in Louisiana. Over time, chicory coffee became associated with New Orleans, where it’s served at iconic spots like Cafe Du Monde and Community Coffee. The version that Berkeley-based (and Reddit famous, link slightly NSFW) Jittery John’s makes is mild, with the chicory imparting only a slight nuttiness but no bitterness to the smooth tasting cold brew.
Oakland’s Living Apothecary makes a series of good-for-you drinks that includes nut milks and kefir tea tonics, like the Passionflower Lemongrass tonic I grabbed on a recent trip to Berkeley Bowl. Similar to milk kefir but without the dairy, water kefir is a fermented drink made from kefir grains (a combination of yeast and bacteria) that’s supposed to improve both your digestive and immune systems. Since it’s fermented for less time than kombucha, it’s a good starter beverage for someone who’d like to experiment with probiotic drinks without committing to kombucha’s distinctive sour wine taste. The Passionflower Lemongrass tonic, made from kefir water and passionflower tea, has a bright, clean, tea flavor, with the lemongrass providing a light herbal note to balance the tonic’s sweetness.
San Francisco’s Pop & Bottle makes a collection of raw, organic milks made from sprouted almonds in flavors like chai and vanilla bean. The cacao almond milk, sweetened with dates and made with cacao powder, opens with a strong whiff of cinnamon, and has a surprising rich, tart flavor. Unlike a lot of nut milks, it has an impressively smooth, thick, non-watery texture, with no grittiness. My boyfriend deemed it “a healthier, adult Yoo-hoo.”
The Liovi yogurt drink makes a lot of claims. Its bottle promises to help you “promote a healthy intestinal balance” and “tune your life,” and its website delicately offers help with “Unpredictable Bowel Habits.” It’s the product of Palo Alto’s NuBiome, which produces products designed to help people recalibrate their gut bacteria and GI tract, among other goals. The yogurt drink is made from Lactobacillus bulgaricus B-30892, a patented probiotic bacteria strain that’s supposed to help reverse a host of gastrointestinal ailments. Hopefully it has some of those health benefits, because taste-wise, it’s not immediately appealing. It smells strongly like cookie dough but tastes more like aggressively yeasty yogurt, with a thick milkshake-like texture. After a few sips, the vanilla scented concoction becomes more palatable, and almost pleasant, if you’re a fan of the funk in kombucha and certain cheeses. Since I only tried one bottle of it, I wasn’t able to try the recommended one to three bottles a day for three weeks for optimal gut repair, but if you believe random forum posts around the internet, it can make a substantial difference for people with various GI tract problems.
Sebastopol company Lemonint makes a series of mint lemonades flavored with peaches, black tea and strawberries. They tout the fresh mint they use for each batch, and it’s obvious: as soon as you open the bottle, you get a whiff the distinctive scent of fresh mint, not the toothpaste or Junior Mints kind. The idea of a mint lemonade is a smart one, since it tempers the natural sweetness of the lemonade and strawberry in the bottle I tried, and keeps it all from being cloying. Everything–the strawberry, mint and lemon– tastes authentic: the flavors all taste like the actual plants they come from, a nice change. It’s refreshing, cooling and the perfect summer drink.