Taylor’s Tonics: Chai Cola

History: You could hear the seriousness in his voice. “We would’ve gone out of business,” says Taylor Peck. It was a grave error, one that would’ve cost his new venture over $40,000 in expenses. $40,000 they didn’t have to lose. And then, a break through. “It was kind of a miracle moment,” he says, the tension still in his voice. Taylor Peck is the founder and brewmaster of Taylor’s Tonics soda kitchen and retail soda shop, The Fizzary; both are located in San Francisco. Their flagship product is the one we review today, chai cola. But it was never supposed to happen.

Taylor and his team started out in Santa Cruz, California in 1996 making and importing teas. They quickly got into chai tea and then transitioned into using organic ingredients. Eventually they started making tea concentrates that they sold to clients. Peck become known for his sophisticated, flavorful tea brews. Business was good, so good he relocated to San Francisco in 2002. Six years later, he almost destroyed it all. “I made a major blunder as a brewmaster,” he chuckles over the phone. You see, there are a lot of ingredients and precision that go into making fine tea. In 2008, Peck was making a 16:1 chai tea concentrate. When he went to add the citric acid, he was off by one decimal point, meaning he added 10 times too much. The batch was useless as tea. This was a major problem, a costly problem. Peck estimates he would’ve lost over $40,000 and bankrupted his business if he didn’t do something. So Peck started thinking. And tinkering. And adding things. I mean why not; he had nothing to lose. Just kidding; he had everything to lose. And then one day… voila. Peck discovered that by carbonating this liquid mess and adding vanilla, it transformed into a pretty damn good soda.

Taylor’s Tonics now markets this soda as Chai Cola. It’s the company’s most recognizable product and the one that saved his business. As you might imagine, there’s a strong tea influence. In fact, 98% of its ingredients are also found in teas. In 2009, Peck began selling it to the public. Eventually he and his team sold off the tea concentrate side of the business to focus solely on craft sodas using tea ingredients. He explains, “It’s still our product. We just took it to a different plane.” All of the ingredients are natural and listed right on the bottle. “We do a combination of organic black tea extract, steamed black tea, and yerba maté teas.” You’ll find spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and three different ginger elements. Like most colas, this one also contains caffeine. Taylor’s Tonics also sells two other year-round flavors and a few seasonal selections. Three years ago, they added a retail soda fountain next to their store called The Fizzary. You’ll never hear Peck brag about his soda, but if you ask his opinion, he won’t shy away from giving it you; “We say little, do much. We don’t want to over promote and we make recipes that aren’t based in hype.” Bold. But can you blame him? I would be too if I pulled some wizard shit like he did. Let’s see if his soda is just as magical.

Where to get: At the time of this review, the online shop at Taylor’s Tonics is down for repair. If you’re looking at this way past June 4, 2015… go give it a peak. Until then, Soda Emporium and Galco’s have you covered for single bottles and Amazon has the hook-up on 12-packs.

Nose: Vanilla cola; chai tea; cloves. One of the best-smelling sodas my nose has come across.

Taste: Cola; tea leaves; cardamom; cinnamon; vanilla. This is a mouthful with a flavor profile akin to a fine dining experience. Lots of things are going on here. First there’s the unmistakable taste of black tea with a sweet kick. This segues into a smooth cola body with notes of vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom. The vanilla isn’t quite as pronounced on the tongue as it was on the nose. The cola and black tea flavors sustain throughout the drink, but the cinnamon and vanilla fade in favor of light ginger and cloves. I’d love to see that vanilla linger just a little bit longer. For a soda with black tea as a bold ingredient, it works well with contrasting flavors like vanilla, ginger and cinnamon.

Finish: Creamy cloves; herbal notes; chai. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a creamy soda, but rather a smooth one. However, the finish is certainly creamy, but it’s more of a botanical creaminess instead of one rich in vanilla. Interesting, but also very nice.

Rating: This is certainly an artisanal soda of the highest degree. Its flavor profile is rich with spices and herbs. Black tea leaves, cloves, vanilla, cinnamon and mild ginger are just a few highlights. The highest compliment I can give this soda is this: it’s a botanical craft soda that non-botanical soda fans will enjoy because its flavors work on multiple levels. The company fuses a blend of natural ingredients to form a tasty herbal elixir that really does taste like cola infused with chai. That said, with so many herbs and spices, this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Get it? ‘Cuz there’s tea in it. Ingredients like cardamom, yerba maté, and cloves are likely to shock the taste buds of some drinkers, but more likely to delight the tongues of most. I’m still trying to figuring out how to do that with women to this day. This isn’t a soda you’ll drink every day, but you’d really be missing out not to try this work of originality and revisit it every now and then. You can taste the effort Taylor’s Tonics puts in every bottle and the quality of ingredients used. It leaves a lasting impact. Chai Cola is a great fancy alternative to alcohol at cocktail parties and also makes a really fun and weird whiskey and coke, something that certainly won’t stop most of us. Do yourself a favor and sample this botanical beauty.


Drink More Good: Cassia Kream

History: Craft soda is hot right now. You know what the hottest trend in craft soda is right now? Craft soda… syrup. That’s right, do it yourself! Don’t be a slave to the confines of the man and his portions on taste! Just add some seltzer water and poof! Drink More Good by Jason Schuler started in 2012 to “make this world a better place.” A Bold statement. But one that has a noble explanation. The company has partnered with generosity.org in an effort to help make clean water more accessible across the world through sustainable water wells. In 2014, Drink More Good raised over $14,000 toward the cause. And that’s great. But you’re more interested in what goes in your mouth. And in this case, it ain’t water. Well, actually, it mostly is. Drink More Good makes three different soda syrups. Perhaps the most unique is the one we sample today: Cassia Kream. It’s sort of a hybrid cola/cream soda, leaning more toward the former. Schuler is proud of his creation. He says, “When colas were made with real ingredients, you would have found coriander, star anise, lavender, citrus, and roasted kola nut in a lot of those recipes. I started my spice blend here, then added cinnamon and vanilla.” So there’s a lot going on in this baby. Schuler’s Drink More Good was a 2014 finalist for the Martha Stewart American Made Awards. He adds, “We’re bringing soda back to what it was. Everything you’re tasting is a real herb or spice that’s been crushed by me in an eight inch mortar and pestle” (in his retail spice shop).

Where to get: Drink More Good is sold online through the company’s web site. Bottles can be purchased individually or as a three-pack.

Nose: Raw, organic honey; anise.

Taste: Lavender flower; honey; cane sugar; mild anise; cinnamon and vanilla. There’s a very distinctive organic honey taste to this. It’s very pleasant and refreshing, almost relaxing. The only thing is… there’s no honey in Cassia Kream. So what we’re really tasting is cane sugar being transformed by the spices in the syrup and how they blend with the seltzer water. Lavender is very apparent and soothing. Cinnamon and anise come in next, though the anise isn’t too overwhelming like in some root beers. Often, this almost tastes like a sweet herbal tea with the addition creamy vanilla. It has a very distinctive flavor and the use of spices here are mesmerizing to the tongue. There’s even the faintest hint of lingering orange throughout the body of the drink. A relaxing honey taste is what rises above everything else. If you told me this didn’t actually have honey in it without showing me the ingredients, I wouldn’t believe you.

Finish: Less honey and more cane sugar that fades into mellow cinnamon and anise star. All of this is carried along by a wave of underlying vanilla and citrus that accentuate the flavors they’re carrying.

Rating: Cassia Kream isn’t your every day cola, but in the world of craft soda, every day cola is a thing of the past. Schuler’s starting point of traditional cola and label of “kream” have landed him elsewhere in a foreign, yet flavorful paradise of herbs and sweetness. It’s kind of like when you’re on Tinder and swipe the wrong person, but it works out in your favor. Trust me, this rarely happens. I would know; I’m often on the wrong end of it. But rare wonders do happen and Drink More Good has created a rare wonder. Cassia Kream does not taste like cola. It does not taste like cream soda. It’s truly on its own island of originality. Think flavors and not necessarily ingredients – this tastes of sweet honey and spices to form a highly drinkable herbal tea-like soda with undertones of vanilla. That’s the best description I can give for something that truly needs to be experienced to understand. Notes of cinnamon, citrus and anise are all apparent throughout the body of the soda, while a rich raw honey taste brings it all home. Wild, earthy and full of flavor. If you were anti soda-syrup before reading this, I hope we’ve at least opened you to the possibility. Drink More Good, you should.