You know that 3pm slump? When you kind of want something refreshing but a sugary drink is just not a good idea and you really don’t want another latte? The team at Keepers Coffee Soda have come up with your new favorite drink.
Keepers is unexpected in a lot of ways. For starters, it’s a coffee-based soda. We’re used to cold brew, but a coffee soda? It also brings together an unlikely flavor combination – their signature citrus and coffee blend. It’s a grown up flavor, not too sweet, tangerines perfectly balancing the coffee. It’s the right way to perk up the afternoon.
The story behind Keepers is pretty unlikely too. I know it first hand, as I happen to be married to one of the co-founders. What started with fun experiments on Summer afternoons is now a business ready to launch, and I’m really thrilled that they’ll be premiering their product at Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar. I sat down with Thi Lam and Brent Lagerman, designers turned brewers, to talk about their journey so far and their plans for the next few months.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did Keepers come to be?
THI: For me it started when I was working with my friend Joel Eastlick on design and marketing for his coffee brand, Eastlick Coffee. He introduced me to high quality coffee and walked me through all the different notes and aromas he would get from taking a first sip. Since I have a palate of a twelve year old, all I tasted was bitter tree bark water. Joel kept pushing me to try more black coffee, but I still didn’t really like it.
Over time, being friends with Joel led me to fall in love with coffee culture. I really grew an appreciation of the process in which coffee is made, the communities that are built around coffee, and the scholastic side of tasting coffee. Unfortunately, I felt like it was hard to be a part of this world since I couldn’t get into the flavor. I thought to myself, there has to be some way where I could enjoy quality coffee.
BRENT: For me Keepers started in the swamps of Florida… My parents bought a plot of land in the middle of a swamp when I was around 10 years old and built a house there. It was pretty much us against nature – we had coral snakes, tons of biting insects, huge spiders… Truth is, it was really paradise for a pre-teen boy. One of the hidden gems of that property was the tangerine trees that grew wild in the woods. My brothers and I would climb up those trees and pick the most amazing fruit I’ve ever tasted. I’ve always loved citrus; grapefruit, key lime, kumquat, different types of oranges… Whenever I visit family in Florida I always stock up on citrus and fresh juice from the local roadside stands.
Flash forward to this past Summer when Thi joined our branding agency, Condensed. We have a SodaStream at the office, and it says right on it “DO NOT use to carbonate any liquids other than plain water“. Warnings like this always come off as a challenge to me. Thi had been working with Joel on his coffee roasting business so much and we always have fresh coffee in the office, so it was naturally one of our first experiments.
THI: The first couple of times making coffee soda were a huge mess.
BRENT: I carbonated the coffee the same way we did with water, but noticed it was foaming up quite a bit. I let it sit for a while to settle down, then carefully unscrewed the bottle. The whole thing literally exploded like a soda rocket. Coffee went everywhere. The little bit that was left though was a good carbonated soda. I added some lime and sugar to it and Keepers was born.
At what point did it grow from fun experiment to a business?
BRENT: We were really just making it for fun in the beginning. We started making it more and more often because we really loved the flavor, and were starting to crave it towards the end of the day. After many experimental batches, it was tasting really great. We started to upgrade our equipment and try new combinations of coffee beans and citrus… Until we eventually had something we felt was really good and unique, and needed to be brought to market.
How did you come up with the name Keepers?
THI: This part drove us crazy. We wanted a name that embodied something fresh, fun, down to earth, and was short and sweet. We had around 100 embarrassing names on a spreadsheet but nothing fit quite right.
After a long day’s worth of experimenting with different batches, Brent took a sip of our final product and said, that’s a keeper!. There were four of us in the room and we all paused for a second. A Keeper… We bounced it around and it just felt right.
What are the next few months looking like for Keepers?
What are some of your favorite spots in BK?
THI: I personally love the quieter neighborhoods like Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, but my favorite spot would be Grand Ferry Park in Williamsburg. You have to go their during golden hour (6-7pm) to catch it in it’s full glory. Bring a date there! Seriously. Do it.
BRENT: I’m a huge fan of my hood, Windsor Terrace. We have a small strip of restaurants down the street from us that is really special, I really love Della, Le Paddock and Brooklyn Commune. I also miss my favorite Thai restaurant from when I was living in Greenpoint, Amarin Cafe. It’s a family run establishment, and you really get the feeling that the food is their lives. You can see the grandparents rolling spring rolls in the back while you eat, it’s very legit Thai food.