Yes, Coffee Soda is a Thing
BY: BILLY LYONS
The expansion of coffee culture shows no signs of slowing down in the United States. With freelancers treating coffee houses like their actual houses, having a variety of caffeinated beverages has never been more important. Enter coffee soda, the possible final frontier in caffeine. We spoke with Nathanael Mehrens, inventor and one of the founding partners of Matchless Coffee Soda, about the growth of his industry and why his creation is poised to appear in cafes and supermarkets nationwide.
When I was a kid, I remember “running” away from home and taking with me a coffee pot because I knew it was somehow important. I made it to the end of my driveway before turning back. What age did you first fall in love with coffee?
Probably at four or five years old. I remember my dad letting me have spoonfuls of his coffee at the local diner and it was loaded with cream and sugar and so delicious. I still have a soft spot in my heart for diner coffee.
Are we in a good time for experimental coffee drinks?
We’ve come through this purist time period. We’ve been figuring out the science of how to brew. We’re really starting to understand the chemistry and the physics behind that, but still maintain the quality of coffee. People are appreciative of that. We’ve established coffee as a craft. To me, the next step is saying what else can we do, where else can we take this? It’s an entirely new experience to take that ingredient and put it into a new dynamic and new context.
What makes coffee soda unique?
It’s really a separate category. The difference between cold brew and coffee soda is almost like the difference between an espresso and a cappuccino. Not only is it balanced with demerara and citric acid, but the carbonation is an ingredient in and of itself. The tactile nature of it completely changes the drinking experience and makes the whole thing more refreshing.
Were you surprised that someone else had not offered coffee soda before?
What I wanted to do was a more refreshing sort of thing. I noticed some people were carbonating coffee, but it doesn’t taste good. Everybody seemed to be doing coffee flavoring in a soda instead of carbonating it. It’s not easy to do. It takes a lot of know how.
Do you have plans to make different flavors?
I think of Matchless as the classic coffee soda and I don’t want to over complicate it, but we get asked pretty often if we can do a decaffeinated or sugar free version, so we may explore those in the future.
You are now running a Kickstarter to get your product in cans. What plans do you have to expand your brand’s profile after that?
Once we work out all the kinks, we’d love to start putting Matchless in cafes and on shelves across the country. Right now we have it on tap at a bunch of locations in Nashville and the surrounding region. We have a full updated list on our website.
How do you feel about being an entrepreneur?
It’s stressful and exhausting, but it’s kind of the only thing I want to do. There are certainly challenges to it. Money is a big one. That’s why we’re doing Kickstarter. It’s not easy to get these things started.
What’s the best way to improve our in-person coffee shop experience?
At the shop, certainly asking your barista to recommend something. There’s still kind of this cafe culture, your baristas are constantly judging you. That’s starting to change. Shops are either roasting themselves or have a reputable roaster. There’s as much information about the coffee available to the consumer as possible. The country of origin. Specific farms. The more information, the more I trust them to care about what they’re doing.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about coffee culture?
That caring about the way things taste is somehow pretentious. Pretentious people are pretentious. Coffee is just delicious.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy coffee?
For me, drip coffee is the best expression. I want it clean, well extracted, and without distraction.