History: There are as many layers to Chazzano Coffee founder and owner Frank Lanzkron-Tamarazo as there are to the beans he roasts in his Ferndale, Michigan cafe. But first and foremost, this dude loves coffee – he talked to us about it on the phone for 54 minutes. Most of our interviews are done in under 15. He also knows it about 2940325x better than anyone I’ve ever met. He is a master roaster and takes it seriously. He generously sent us two bags of it. Can confirm his coffee is amazing. He’s also one of the funniest people I’ve ever interviewed. When talking about bad coffee, he quipped, “It’s against God to do that.” It’s a topical quote because religion is another big part of Lanzkron-Tamarazo’s life. He’s Jewish with Italian heritage and grew up in New York City. Religion is actually what led Lanzkron-Tamarazo to his own coffee business because he originally moved to Michigan to take a job in a synagogue that didn’t work out. It even impacted the cafe’s name. You see, Lanzkron-Tamarazo is a Cantor, which is the main Torah reader and singer in Jewish synagogues. In Hebrew it’s called a “Chazzan.” So he took the Hebrew spelling, added an “O” to it because he’s Italian and basically every Italian word ends in “O”, and voila – Chazzano Coffee was born in October of 2009. Lanzkron-Tamarazo’s journey to become one of America’s most knowledgeable sources on coffee started 16 years earlier when his mother-in-law bought him a roaster for his birthday. After buying beans from around the world, his “night time hobby” escalated from brewing ounces to pounds to hundreds of pounds to thousands. And after buying bigger and bigger roasters to satisfy his greater yields, the dollars were adding up and the passion was no longer pacing at a slow drip. Lanzkron-Tamarazo says he decided “Life is short. It’s time to do something that will really bring joy to my life.” Why, you might ask? “I could not find anyone else’s coffee that was better than mine,” he admits. Over the phone, you can tell he isn’t being condescending – this dude believes he’s it when it comes to coffee. Chazzano Coffee’s catchphrase is “Good coffee makes you sing!” Seems appropriate since Lanzkron-Tamarazo and his wife are both opera singers. “My kids will probably need therapy because of that,” he jokes.
Six years later, Chazzano Coffee gained a new relative on the shelves in the cafe: soda. As a youngster, Lanzkron-Tamarazo’s grandmother loved Manhattan Special Espresso Soda, a beverage you can still buy today. It was always his duty to bring it to her. As an adult, it was his dream to create his own coffee soda. So in October of 2015, he did. But he also created another, arguably much more interesting soda based on cascara, also known as “coffee cherry.” Cascara is the husk or skin of coffee cherry, the fruit of the coffee bean. Lanzkron-Tamarazo describes the taste of coffee cherry as honeydew-esque. It’s often used in teas. He notes many coffee farmers use the fruit as compost for trees, however others in countries like Yemen use it to create beverages. Lanzkron-Tamarazo first tasted coffee cherry at Gold Mountain Coffee Growers in Matagalpa, Nicaragua in January of 2015. It wasn’t long before he started making his own tea using cascara. That tea is a central part of Fruit of the Bean Cascara Soda. In fact, it is the soda… because the soda is literally just the tea and carbonated water. No sugar. No preservatives. No added flavors. Just two ingredients. His coffee soda follows the same principle. “There’s nothing like it that has no preservatives, that has no sugar,” he boasts. And while Lanzkron-Tamarazo describes coffee cherry’s flavor as tasting like honeydew, he says the cascara soda is sweet with notes of apple and pineapple. It’s not often we taste sodas based on something we’ve never even heard of, but I suppose there’s a first for everything. Chazzano Coffee is already ahead of the game when it comes to originality.
Where to get: Chazzano’s Fruit of the Bean Cascara soda can be purchased in the Ferndale, Michigan cafe. For those of you not able to make the trip, Lanzkron-Tamarazo takes orders for his soda via email or phone. You can find their contact information on their website.
Nose: Prunes with just a touch of mild cherry.
Taste: Unsweetened prunes; slightly fruity tea; tobacco; mild coffee. There’s an interesting combination of flavors going on that all go back and forth. Typically with sodas you taste an initial flavor, then some more tasting notes that come in to blend and form the soda’s base, and then a finish. Here, the three flavors of mild prunes, tea, and coffee all make up the soda’s body and intermingle throughout each sip. This is not a sweet soda as it contains no sugar. Each of the three flavors have equal balance throughout the bottle, though some flavors are stronger on some sips and milder on others. The prune taste provides a little bit of natural fruit flavor with some floral hibiscus notes, while the tea has slightly fruit, almost cherry-like notes. The coffee flavors are pretty straightforward and provide some mild bitterness. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact coffee flavor with the fruity notes also in play. An interesting taste worth pointing out that comes from the brewed cascara tea used to make this soda is tobacco. It’s not strong, but it does provide some subtle smokey and savory notes for a more full-bodied flavor. Both are mild in nature. It’s a mild soda in general, but is very drinkable for one with no sugar.
Finish: There’s a very light coffee flavor at the end of this soda, kind of like a blonde roast. It’s a unique sensation going from a tea flavor in the soda’s body to a coffee one on the finish.
Rating: Fruit of the Bean Cascara Soda is truly a pioneering soda in the industry. It’s the only bottled soda made from “coffee cherry” or cascara that we know of… and trust us, we’ve looked into it. It’s a coffee shop connoisseur’s dream. This is a soda you can drink as an alternative to tea or coffee and still get a little caffeine kick from, as cascara contains about a quarter of the caffeine of normal coffee. The flavors are truly… odd. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a swirl of prune notes, blonde roast coffee, and steeped tea with notes of hibiscus and tobacco. The tea flavor brings both floral and savory elements to the table, while the coffee brings a little bit of a roasted bitter taste. But the biggest flavor I notice is that fruity prune taste. It’s there just enough to stand out the most to me, but all three flavors are balanced throughout the beverage. Like Chazzano Coffee Soda, Fruit of the Bean Cascara Soda also contains no sugar. For some, that’ll be a turn off. Personally I’m not a fan of sodas without sugar, whether they are labeled diet or not, but I don’t know – this one is so light and drinkable that I do actually enjoy it. It has real flavor despite the absence of sugar while maintaining a sophisticated flavor profile. It doesn’t surrender taste. Frank Lanzkron-Tamarazo has said he won’t make a soda with sugar in it. I’d be interested to how this one would taste if that were to happen. I also think adding sugar would strengthen its appeal to a larger audience. It’s hard to critique this soda beyond that because there’s no basis on which to judge it seeing as its the first of its kind to be bottled. I have to praise Chazzano Coffee for being truly original and I’m interested to see where this pioneering soda takes the flavor in the industry and how it might inspire its creators to branch out even farther.