November 11, 2021

What is sparkling coffee?


The coffee industry continues to innovate with a range of new product categories, beverage categories like cold brew, nitro cold brew, and the espresso tonic have laid the groundwork for future experimentation. 

Sparkling coffee, also referred to as coffee soda, is yet another new way to enjoy cold coffee, and it is quickly gaining popularity among consumers. An unusual yet refreshing taste and flavour versatility make sparkling coffee a beverage category with a high ceiling for experimentation.

I spoke to two industry experts to get a better idea of what this product is and what we can expect from it in the near future. Read on to learn more.

You may also like our article exploring the market for coffee flavourings.

Sparkling coffee on display outdoors.

What is sparkling coffee?

Graham Gould is co-founder and CEO of VIVIC Coffee in Sonoma, California, US. He says that this new coffee product is actually simple in nature.

“It’s exactly what it sounds like: sparkling coffee,” he explains. “It’s a refreshing new way to enjoy coffee: the depth and flavour of cold brew combined with the effervescence of sparkling water.”

Jenny Bonchak is the founder of Slingshot Coffee Company in Raleigh, North Carolina, US. Like Graham, she says that the concept is pretty straightforward.

“It’s carbonated coffee,” she says. “We take something that you know and love, which is soda water, and we pair it with something else you know and love, which is coffee. 

“At Slingshot, we do it in such a way where we pay attention to flavour and balance, and we bring those things together in a whole new world.”

A type of sparkling coffee in a bottle.

The history of sparkling coffee

While the specialty coffee industry has been toying with the idea of sparkling coffee for quite a while, commercial products didn’t really launch until 2016. Now there are plenty of brands entering the market. 

According to some, sparkling coffee, or gassosa al caffè, was invented in Calabria, Italy decades ago. Consequently, there are now a number of well-established Italian coffee soda brands on the market. Some are now defunct, but others like Brasilena and Stappi are alive and well.

At the end of the 19th century, Italian immigrants founded Manhattan Special in Brooklyn, New York, US. This brand has since come to sell a small, bottled coffee soda that is composed of coffee, sugar, and caramel colouring, and carbonated.

“You have the Manhattan Special, which has been around for like a hundred years, so there is an element that is known about sparkling coffee,” Jenny says. “But when you think about it, the Manhattan Special is very segmented. It’s in a certain location and it’s not widely consumed.”

Because of that, she says, Slingshot is always trying to launch products that are exciting to a wide range of people. This applies to sparkling coffee, too.

She says: “I want to share coffee experiences with people, and I want to bring specialty coffee to people that is interesting and fun and exciting, and coffee sodas are one way to do that.”

Both Graham and Jenny point to Coca Cola and Pepsi’s recent release of coffee sodas as evidence that the idea is becoming more mainstream. If it’s backed by big brands like these, the idea of carbonated coffee may well not be an unusual concept for much longer.

“[With] coffee soda, there is still a lot to learn,” Jenny says. “There are lots of people who still don’t know about it. It’s not a widely accepted thing, but it’s going in a positive direction when you see companies like Coca-Cola put out things like Coke with coffee.” 

Part of specialty coffee’s recent focus on coffee soda stems from its new and refreshing flavour potential.

“I saw nitro really take off,” Graham says. “I felt like sparkling was going to be the next big thing, because it is even more refreshing than nitro and cold brew, and it opens the door for what you can do with flavour profiles.”

Vivic sparkling coffee lined up.

Flavour and coffee selection

Graham says that VIVIC Coffee was founded to fill a distinct gap in the coffee market. He was inspired by professional chefs and their ability to create dishes that surprise.

“Everyone was doing the same thing: cold brew, iced coffee, some milk options, vanilla, and so on,” Graham says. “I realised there were a lot of other flavour notes in coffee, not just chocolate and nuts.”

VIVIC’s selection of flavours reflects this diversity. It offers drinks that contain sarsaparilla root, raspberry, and lavender, among other choices.

Graham adds that VIVIC is also focused on sustainable and respectful sourcing practices. The company trades directly with a single farm in El Salvador that produces high-quality arabica. This is VIVIC’s only partner for now, but in the future, Graham plans to add a natural Ethiopian into the mix.

As far as Slingshot goes, Jenny says that the team took a nostalgic approach to their flavour options.

“We wanted these classic flavours that have the ability to generate memories and a little bit of a nostalgia effect for people,” she says.

When selecting coffees for their recipes, Jenny says the team initially explores flavours in isolation before combining them to find a balanced profile.

“For instance, the coffee we use for the citrus vanilla cream soda is Ethiopian coffee, but we use a blend for the vintage root beer,” she adds.

Sparkling coffee in a glass and a can.

Where does RTD fit in?

Sparkling coffee can usually be found canned or bottled at shops or cafés. This ready-to-drink (RTD) form is more convenient and accessible for a wider range of consumers.

Graham says that if VIVIC had a cafe, he would have kegged versions of the staple offerings on tap, as well small batch seasonal and limited edition options. 

Jenny adds that one is not necessarily better than the other. According to her, it really depends on what the café is trying to do and what the customer is looking for.

However, she says: ”[RTD coffee soda] is a great option for coffee shops that want a sparkling coffee option but don’t have the capacity to make it themselves, or do it in a way that they can replicate over and over.”

There are many approaches to preparing sparkling coffee, too. Espresso, cold brew, and even hot filter coffee can all be infused with soda water. According to Graham, some manufacturers use proprietary brew methods to achieve a balance of effervescence and flavour in their products. 

Jenny says that when it comes to choosing an approach, it all depends on what your final product is. For instance, you can’t expect to pull an espresso shot for each drink if you’re aiming for mass production.

“We make sure the coffee we brew for the coffee sodas is the right origin and the right brew method for that particular coffee,” she says. “We don’t use a one-size-fits-all, because we want it to taste the best it possibly can.”

Tips for making your own sparkling coffee at home

Jenny also has some advice for enthusiasts eager to make their own sparkling coffee at home. First off, she says, you’ll need the best quality ingredients you can find, namely specialty coffee, sparkling or soda water, and any flavours or syrups you’d like to try out.

“You need a great glass, and you need great ice,” she says. “Use filtered water and all that good stuff.

“It really comes down to thinking about what you like. It’s just fun experimentation. That’s all it is, and to me that’s what is so fun about coffee.”

As a final tip, she says that sparkling coffees make for great cocktail mixers, and they can even be enjoyed over ice cream as a type of soda float.

A woman drinks sparkling coffee from a glass.

Looking ahead

According to Grand View Research, this new category of carbonated beverage is already taking off. The sparkling coffee market is already valued at more than US $522 million, and the firm expects that figure to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13% until 2028.

“Refreshing sparkling coffee products are gradually gaining popularity across the globe,” the researchers say. 

“The rising demand for convenient, ready-to-drink beverages that are also beneficial for health in comparison to sugary energy drinks and other soda drinks is anticipated to drive the market.”

Although it’s still a brand new product, Graham agrees, saying that people are only just beginning to dabble in this new coffee beverage category.

“We got there early to the party, and now people are just showing up,” he says. “There’s a lot of room for experimentation and new products.”

Pouring Slingshot sparkling coffee.

While traditional coffee drinks are timeless and will probably never go out of style, it is exciting to see how specialty coffee is reaching people in new ways. Sparkling coffee has already taken off, and its appeal as both a café staple and an RTD offering is undeniable.

Graham concludes: “I’m pretty confident it will be the next nitro. It is here to stay.”

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on how to profitably serve cold and sparkling drinks in a coffee shop.

Photo credits: VIVIC Coffee, Slingshot Coffee Company

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