I wouldn’t say I’m living a completely bi-coastal existence, but I certainly spend enough time on the road these days to form a comparison of what’s happening in beverages on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the country.
I would be pilloried for trying to say which coast is more vibrant, so, following the longstanding example of our publisher, I’m going to equivocate, while also pointing out some distinctions.
In big categories, regional differences don’t count for much: in the East, iced tea and lemonade seem a bit stronger, while out West, energy drink companies have stolen market share from soda companies a little more aggressively, although they are so ubiquitous now that regional differences don’t count for much except at the brand level.
Both coasts have given us strong juicing plays: Blueprint really launched the cleanse trend in the East, and relied on Manhattan’s density to grow a potent direct-to-consumer business before it started to sell in stores.
Out West, Jimmy Rosenberg pioneered the use of high pressure processing at Evolution Fresh, but the crazy kids at Harmless Harvest were really the Pied Pipers for the process; they managed to bring it to Brooklyn and to San Francisco in the space of a couple of years, launching the hopes of dozens of would-be juice emperors.
One product that used to be more regional was craft soda – but there’s where we’re starting to see the effects of centralized buying at large chains. Companies like Starbucks and Target are helping smaller brands like Dry and Sipp network throughout the country.
So if all those things are the same, what’s different? In a word, butter. The use cases are different, and stark. On the West Coast, people are starting to swear by butter coffee, an emulsified solution of fat, oil, and caffeine that purports to impart lasting energy and sustained concentration. The East Coast is starting to pick up on the trend, but for the most part it’s strictly in techie circles; out in L.A. and S.F., it’s migrated to a lot of professions.
Meanwhile, the East Coast has used butter to provide us all with something that I consider to be of much greater use: the Cronut.
Still, it’s not all fatty treats on the eastern seaboard. It was in New York, after all, that the first to-go bone broth kiosk opened up; while it’s quickly been picked up out West as well, we’ve got Manhattan to thank for that salty pick-me-up.
If we had to over-generalize, we could say that the West Coast loves to push the edge from the beverage side. On one visit, I saw a store advertising butter coffee AND bone broth, both of which, it claimed, were what the Lakers were drinking on a daily basis.
(Now, I was something of a Showtime fan myself back in the day, but did anyone in the store bother to look at how the Lakers are doing these days? Personally, I’d rather know what Doc Rivers is serving on the Clippers’ training table, except that whatever it was, it sure made Blake Griffin a little too ornery.)
On the West Coast, juicing came to the fore really quickly, both in stores and at juice bars. Both coasts think that they invented decent coffee. Still, it’s only in California that anyone would ever dare to suggest anything as audacious as adding butter to the deal, and turn it into a sustainable business, to boot. Back in the day, we’d light up Bacardi 151 floating atop Amaretto and call them Flaming Dr Pepper shots. I wonder what happens if you hit Butter Coffee with a little fire? Chances are, it’s going to heat up more quickly than the Lakers.
So what’s happening in flyover country? I think it’s incredibly dynamic: I’m a big believer in the Austin/Boulder/Chicago/Twin Cities axis as an innovation corridor. Maybe we’ll have dispatches from there in the near future. Meanwhile, though, remember: there are plenty of people who call bone broth “stock” and a lot of folks who are looking at soup cleanses rather than juice. I’ve told you all already: I don’t juice, I salad. It’s not very beverage of me, I know. But a guy’s gotta eat, too. At least, I think so, anyway.