Fizzy coffee isn’t entirely new, but it’s a concept that pops up in so many minds, that it may be impossible to say that there is one originator. For young chef Henry Hill, the idea to carbonate coffee came while he was making his own Kombucha two and a half years ago.
“There was always a non-alcoholic pairing at the NoMad,” Hill said about his observations while working at one of New York’s top rated restaurants. “That’s what kind of inspired me. I started making my own kombuchas, and then I was drinking coffee one day and I thought ‘why can’t we put bubbles in this?’”
A recipe from trial and error
One can’t simply put coffee through a soda stream and carbonate it, however. “I ended up having the most success with the way freeze-dried coffee dissolves in the liquid,” Hill said, coming up with the procedure after a lot of trial and error. “I started using Granny Smith apple juice, which added a tang to balance the acidity from the coffee.”
The end product is a crisp, mildly sweet beverage that has the fruitiness of cola, but the familiar, bitter acidity of coffee.
Hill thought now is a good time to develop such a product, as craft sodas are gaining traction and coffee is growing in popularity. He named the brand after a life changing experience a few years ago—traveling through South East Asia on a motorcycle, his first experience abroad.
Like his solo trip on the other side of the world, he described Café Racer as a one-man-show. “Other than the co-packers, I’m doing everything myself,” he said. “I’m making a product that is who I am, and that’s who it’s going to reach; people I relate to.
“I’m not strategizing to reach millennials, I’m just being myself,” he added. “I think by being authentic, I can reach them with this alternative for a coffee drinker.”
Small scale… for now
Hill’s product, Café Racer, is like many of the carbonated coffees out there—produced in small batches, sold ultra-locally: Austin has it’s Coffer, New York City has Manhattan Special, and Vancouver has Fernwood Coffee Company’s carbonated cold brew.
Café Racer can be found in two local Chicago grocery chains, Go Grocer and Sunset Foods, and at several chain restaurants such as Marcello’s and Freshii. Because of his existing connections, Hill has been marketing his product to restaurants—Ugo’s in Logan Square stocks it in its bar, and the newly Michelin-minted Dusek’s in Pilsen featured it as a float on its dessert menu, which changes daily.
“Everything is bottled in Southern Illinois. I got really lucky because most co-packers have a [minimum] requirement of 5000 cases,” Hill said. “If I had to produce that requirement, financially I couldn’t do it. So when I got in touch with these guys, I was able to start with 100 cases.
“The next steps for me are to find some angel investors and a business partner that can help me raise capital,” Hill said.
“There isn’t a national coffee soda on the shelves, and I’m going to change that.”