My taste buds are familiar with the taste of coffee drinks as something hot, and if cold, than related to milk shakes or iced coffee with vanilla ice cream. This means drinking cold coffee has always meant using milk products with it. A rich espresso, mokka or Ethiopian coffee cold? Improbable! Hence the taste of black coffee in a cold state had not yet been registered in my mind, although many months ago I did experiment a bit with the notion of a coffee lemonade.
This week suddenly I had a slight urge to taste what it would be like to drink black coffee out of a can as a soft drink. The question arises: are these drinks about the intensity and the bitterness of an espresso in a cold state? Is it plainly a soft drink with the lightness of a coffee water, similar to water with a light orange taste? In Asia there is a very large market for bottled coffee drinks. Momentarily companies like Pokka (Japan), Mr. Brown (China) and Illy (Italy) are making a lot of advertising in Europe.
Shortly after the thought crossed my mind I thought it to be better having the chance to compare right from the beginning. My first choice was to buy a Pokka “Black Coffee” and a Mr. Brown “Black Coffee”. The first impression was the information charcoal roasted on the Pokka can, which reminded me of the Italian coffee roasters Tre Forze and Maria Sole both using olive wood for their roasting.
The first differences are found by reading the ingredients.
- Pokka: Water, Freshly Brewed Coffee, Sugar
- Mr. Brown: Water, Sugar(6%), coffee-extract 1,7% / Refreshing drink with milk and coffee-extract (without milk)
Interestingly enough, the German details mention the use of instant coffee, which is not the same as coffee-extract.
Pokka was established in Japan in 1957 as Nikka Lemon and their first products revolved solely around lemon beverages. It was not until 1972 that they started producing coffee drinks, categorized world-wide as can coffee. In 1996 they then brought their new coffee production method to the market, called de-oxygenation. Pokka explains their methods of producing can coffee as follows:
De-oxygenating Method – A method of retaining the taste and aroma of freshly brewed coffee by thoroughly eliminating oxygen, which impacts on the freshness of coffee, from raw materials and during the manufacturing processes
First Drip Method – Pokka’s original technique of using only the first batch of the brew reduces any unpleasant and bitter taste by extracting a rich flavor to realize a clear aftertaste with a sophisticated taste.
Pokka Espresso Method – The original technique reproduces the authentic taste of espresso with the use of steam. The method extracts a delicious rich taste and distinctive aroma to realize the great taste of espresso in canned coffee.
Fresh Natural Aroma Method – Pokka’s unique technique captures the ascendant aroma during the brewing process. This method delivers the sensitive aroma of freshly brewed coffee in canned coffee.
Mr. Brown is produced since 1982 in Taiwan by King Car. In 2008 their instant coffee was found to be contaminated with the organic compound melamine, for which reason they now use milk products from New Zealand. Their website offers subtitles in English, but no further English information. Hence the minimal amount of information.
When drinking can coffee one must discharge all previous notions of coffee as a natural product, just as one must sip a canned apple juice with completely different expectations to the drinking of a self-juiced apple at home. Conscious of this I opened my cans. From Pokka’s Black Coffee the first perception on my nose was a breath of vanilla with a combination of ‘flowery’ notes which remind me of soft drinks, but not of coffee. The first breath of Mr. Brown’s Black Coffee is much more complex and edgy and I recognize quite well the smell of ‘cold coffee’.
Pokka’s taste I must describe as flat, though somehow agreeable with the idea of a light-weight coffee meant to be drank as a refreshener. It is much like water with a light scent of coffee, but no weak. Mr. Brown’s has much more of the typical bitterness expected by many from coffee. The composition tastes earthy with a citrus note. It reminds me of the intensity and sharpness of an espresso. One may compare the taste of both with normal and strong cigarettes. The former being a normal cigarette and the latter being a Gauloises.
The differences here are fairly constant. A coffee-unlikely combination of flowery-vanilla taste remains from Pokka. A sharper after-taste remains from Mr. Brown, almost smoky, as actually Pokka had suggested.
Both drinks look far from soft, but very dark, Mr. Brown being a bit more dense it its colour. All in all, for the kick some seem to need, for the refreshment needed in hot summer days and for the joy of the taste of coffee, can coffee could be seen as the true alternative to coffee, as opposed to the alternative substitute-coffees claim to be. It is much more about the feeling of soft drinks and less of coffee. This is perhaps the proper idea for the desire of having coffee-to-go, just as Toshikage Tanida, Pokka’s founder, suddenly thought many years ago:
“I wish I could enjoy coffee in the car easily…”