coffee

Chazzano: Brooklyn Born Coffee Soda

History: “If you put cream or sugar in my coffee, God cries and an angel loses its wings,” Frank Lanzkron-Tamarazo says in a corkscrewed, high-pitched New York accent over the phone. Lanzkron-Tamarazo is a sweet, funny man with a last name almost as long as the conversation we had together. Our time on the phone totaled 54 minutes. Normally our interviews for these reviews clock in at under 15. But Lanzkron-Tamarazo has much to say about his roots, his career, and most importantly, everything coffee. Lanzkron-Tamarazo is a master roaster and founder of Chazzano Coffee in Ferndale, Michigan. But it’s something else that ties all those things in a bow: his religion. He references God often in our conversation, usually in his jokes, though never in a decrying matter. Lanzkron-Tamarazo grew up in New York City with a Jewish mother and an Italian Catholic father before taking his talents to Michigan for a job in a synagogue there. It didn’t work out. But in the meantime, something else was brewing. Sixteen years earlier, his mother-in-law asked Lanzkron-Tamarazo what he wanted for his birthday. The small coffee roaster she gifted him quickly turned into something more. Roasting beans became his nighttime hobby and quickly turned into his full-time obsession. The roasters went from desktop-sized to industrial. The 1o-pound bags turned into 1000-pound bags. “I couldn’t find anyone else’s coffee that was better than mine,” he admits. And don’t get him started on “bad coffee.” He says “it’s against God to do that,” only this time he doesn’t sound like he’s joking. After the synagogue gig didn’t work out, Lanzkron-Tamarazo decided in 2009, “It’s time to do something that will really bring joy to my life.” He now spends more time at his cafe than the synagogue, but in a way, you could say Lanzkron-Tamarazo is at church in some form or another every day because coffee is a religious experience for him. It even influenced the name of the store. Quick story: 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,” because what Italian word doesn’t end in “O,” and created Chazzano Coffee. This dude gets so worked up talking about the stuff that I’m almost convinced to make the 10-hour drive to try all his varieties.

Being an obsessive, Lanzkron-Tamarazo couldn’t just stop at normal coffee. He needed coffee soda. He grew up around the stuff. His grandmother was a huge fan of Manhattan Special Espresso Soda and it was little Frank’s job to bring it to her. But Lanzkron-Tamarazo wanted his own version. In October of 2015, he introduced his own Brooklyn Born Coffee Soda at Chazzano Coffee. Lanzkron-Tamarazo describes its flavor as tinged with chocolate, nuttiness, and maltiness. When asked specifically which coffees are used in the soda, Lanzkron-Tamarazo is tight-lipped. Brooklyn Born Coffee Soda might be full of flavor, but it’s also notable for what’s not in the recipe. Lanzkron-Tamarazo expands on this, saying it’s a “completely different product than anything on the market because it has no sugar.” That’s right. This is a soda void of one of the genre’s trademark ingredients. And he admits, it won’t be for everyone. “It is a niche beverage. The problem is that there’s no competition for it yet.” The soda also contains no preservatives. As for caffeine content, Chazzano’s Coffee Soda contains about a fourth of the amount of a normal cup of coffee, according to an estimate by Lanzkron-Tamarazo. Carbonated water + coffee = …I don’t know, but it sounds intense.

Where to get: Brooklyn Born Coffee Soda can be purchased directly from Chazzano’s Cafe in Ferndale, Michigan. The company does not sell their soda online, but does take orders for it via email. Find the company’s contact information here.

Nose: Strong roasted coffee smell. Almost like someone brewed a fresh pot and then chilled it.

Taste: Coffee; acidic; dark roast; very mild chocolate; foamy. This’ll put hair on your peaches. Man, the coffee flavor is robust. This is a strong coffee soda. There’s one main flavor and one main flavor only here: powerful roasted coffee beans. Almost a little bit of a nutty flavor with the beans. You won’t taste sugar. You won’t taste many other subtleties like vanilla or creaminess. Coffee. All coffee. And as with most coffee beverages, this is fairly acidic. You can taste the freshness of the beans. Definitely tastes like a dark roast, almost bordering on espresso. If you search hard enough for it, there’s a little bit of a chocolate underbody to the soda. My guess is most won’t taste it. Lots of foam on this soda too. Low on sugar, big on coffee flavor.

Finish: Strong coffee beans with a little bit of earthiness that slowly fades into the background.

Rating: Chazzano coffee soda is definitely a beverage for javahead purists. If you’re a coffee lover or enjoy dry sodas with lots of flavor, definitely bust the cap off one of these. If you enjoy sweeter sodas in the more traditional sense, this will be a hard sell for you because I taste absolutely zero sugar here (because there is none). It’s definitely a niche soda for the reason that it tastes devoid of sugar and b u r s t i n g with intense roasted coffee bean taste. No sugar. No carbs. No calories. This is literally just carbonated water and coffee. I think no matter what, this soda is a sipper. Put on your fedora, open up your laptop, and watch the beautiful head on this form as your pour one out into your glass. Sip slowly at your favorite hipster cafe as you wax melodramatic about your first world problems. Bottom line is this: this is strong. Strong coffee. Coffee strong. Get it? If you’re into that, go far it. If not, pass. Simple as that. Personally, I think the roasted coffee flavor is great, but I also think it needs some supporting flavor. Maybe a sweeter nuttiness, maybe vanilla. But more than anything, it needs a little sugar. I think even with 20 grams of sugar, this could appeal to a wider audience. I get that this soda is a love letter to coffee enthusiasts. I just think maybe they should offer one that’s a little sweeter. Still, it earns major points for its flavor. Chazzano Coffee Soda is definitely one that will make you say “wow!” but the reasoning behind the exclamation is sure to be divided.

Three Stars

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Chazzano Coffee: Fruit of the Bean Cascara Soda

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.

Four Stars

Simpson Spring: Coffee Soda

History: Let me tell you about a company whose namesake dates back to 6000 BC. Gives a whole new meaning to the word “retro,’ huh? “We’re the oldest bottling plant in the country,” says Simpson Spring co-owner and marketing head Chris Bertarelli. The spring itself is what’s ancient. The South Easton, Massachusetts company actually started up in 1878. The bottling plant is built around the spring, meaning the spring is literally in the building. After Sam Simpson acquired and farmed the land where the spring is located for 50 years, he was convinced by his grandson, Fred Howard, to sell him five acres around his property. According to Bertarelli, Howard was a bit… uhh, weird. But if it was for his eccentricities, Simpson Spring Soda might not exist. It was Howard who started experimenting with carbonating the spring water and adding flavor to it. The coffee soda we review today is still the original recipe made with real coffee and was one of the first flavors in company history. Bertarelli was uncertain about the exact date of when the company began producing soda, but notes the year on the recipe book is dated 1919. The only difference between the original sodas of now and then is that today’s versions contain pure cane sugar instead of syrup. The first incantation of Simpson Spring Coffee Soda was called “Spar Coffee.’ People would add cream and sugar… and scotch. Because nothing says starting your morning like getting hammered and stumbling through bacon and eggs. Another fun fact about the coffee soda: in 1930 it was sent down to Manhattan and sold in Macy’s department stores. Eventually, Fred Howard left the company to pursue the “dustless duster.” Bertarelli and her husband took the business over in 1988 and continue to run the historic, yet small operation. At the end of the day, it’s all about the spring. Says Bertarelli, “Soda is a 90% water and we’re using a spring water that has no chemicals added to the water and it’s in glass.” We’ve heard this is a love-it or hate-it soda, and it’s our job to tell you which side to believe.

Where to get: You can purchase Simpson Spring Coffee Soda online at Summit City Soda.

Nose: Light Starbucks Frappuccino; cinnamon bread. Not a particularly strong smell for a coffee-related beverage.

Taste: Dark roast; tartness; cane sugar. The coffee taste is immediate followed by an acidic bite. The bite is a little harsh and takes time to adjust to throughout the drink. The coffee flavor tastes a little watered down. You can really taste the water. The cane sugar helps supplant it a little but, but the tartness in this soda really cuts the sugar. The flavors are simple, but not in balance.

Finish: Dark roast with the volume turned down along with some caramel notes and tartness. Pretty similar to the body of the soda.

Rating: Coffee sodas are their own animal because of the wide variety of flavor options available. Do you want mocha java? Maybe Irish Cream? How about some wild Columbian blend infused with spices? This is what makes some of the great coffee sodas some of the best craft sodas, period. But this is still soda we’re talking about, and soda has three main elements: carbonated water, a sweetener, and the ingredients used to impart the soda’s intended flavor. With Simpson Spring’s Coffee Soda, the company has blended these three elements in a way that leaves an imbalanced flavor profile. The flavor of dark roasted coffee is nice, but it’s a ghost of what it could be and is too watered down and not sweet enough. There’s also a tartness to this that seems out of place. Coffee is an acidic drink in general, but especially so in this soda. It’s a sensation that makes your face wrinkle. It’s like every time I remember the guy my sister married. What a dumbass great stepbrother. I’d prefer to have seen the coffee flavor shine more boldy with less water used. Fans of coffee drinks should certainly still give this a try. But if you’re on the fence about it, unless you’re cool with acidic coffee, you’re better served to try another coffee soda. I wanted to like this, and I know it has a fan base, but our team isn’t sold.

Doggone Good Soda: Irish Cream Coffee

History: In 2008, Bill King and his son opened a sandwich shop in Orange, California. They wanted something unique to pair their grub with, so they decided to sell vintage soda from all over the country. They got such great feedback that in 2012, they decided to start making it themselves. King searched and searched for the right production equipment, but wasn’t getting the results he wanted. So, Bill King built the damn thing himself and eventually got his apparatus approved for use. He literally built a one-of-a-kind soda machine over a year-and-a-half that goes through the entire production process of making and bottling the soda. Eventually, he wants to franchise the concept of this machine out and sell it to other bottlers who can then create their own flavors and sell them in their local area. As for his own soda business, King wanted Doggone Good Soda to be about creativity and having a good time. “You can experiment. It’s a fun business,” he says. The company is known for its wide variety of both classic and artisan-inspired flavors, as well as its unique swing top, wax-coated bottles. King produces over 30 flavors from root beer and vanilla cream to rose dew and red currant soda. They can also do custom labeling for things like weddings, events, gifts, etc. What’s particularly interesting about Doggone Good Soda is that if you’re willing to place a large order of 200-300 bottles, they’ll work with you on creating a flavor. So look alive, soda jerks! Your wildest dreams could become a reality! As King says, “We’re taking soda to a different level.”

Where to get: Doggone Good Soda is sold locally in Orange, California, but King and his son are working on making it available through their Web site for national sales. Until then, King encourages customers who want to try their stuff to call the company directly to place orders over the phone at (714) 865-1848.

Nose: Melted butterscotch chips; fresh sugar cookies.

Taste: This is wild. Tastes absolutely nothing like it smells. You start with a lightly roasted coffee-cream soda flavor that winds and sloooooowly turns into more of a burned caramel taste. As noted on the label, the company uses coffee beans from a local roaster called HapiBean. The coffee really does come through on the tongue. The carbonation is subtle and doesn’t distract from the flavor. The amount of sugar used here is noticeable and does distract from all the subtleties you could probably get in addition to what’s already there. Coffee is such a nuanced flavor and the sugar here masks that a little bit. That said, there’s no syrupy aftertaste and Doggone Good Soda should be commended for making such a complicated soda that isn’t overwhelming. The caffeine on this puppy isn’t a pulse-spiker, but whoa, it comes in quickly.

Finish: Bailey’s irish cream that slowly turns into vanilla-infused, dark-roasted coffee beans. It’s a long finish for a soda. The flavors dance around and change much more like a scotch or fine bourbon than a craft soda. Complicated and distinct.

Rating: Doggone Good Soda’s Irish Coffee Cream Soda is a must-try for the craft soda connoisseur simply because it’s different than anything you’ve ever put in your mouth. Coffee drinkers will likely love this stuff. We did feel that the amount of sugar used in the soda’s syrup hid some of the extra flavor opportunities that may have been possible. Still, there’s so much going on here (in a good way), that we urge you to contact the company and place an order. Also, the bottles are dope and reusable. This is exactly what it says it is: coffee cream soda. What isn’t advertised: it’s a flavor roller coaster.