Espresso Coffee Soda by Manhattan Special may look like a consciously retro hipster beverage—the flapper on the label, significant caffeine content, and cane sugar sweetener help. And it's made in Brooklyn's Williamsburg, natch. But no: this stuff is the real around-for-a-century deal, cranked out in Brooklyn since 1895.
Longtime New Yorkers will recognize the bottle, but those from elsewhere might not. Coffee, or soda? It's sort of both. When it comes to caffeine, most people opt for one or the other, canned coffee beverages aside. But Manhattan Special's Espresso Coffee Soda lets you know two things as soon as you pop it open: 1. it's super fizzy, a fine carbonation that'll send a fountain of stout-colored soda spraying across the room if you're not careful; and 2. it's coffee soda, not just coffee-tinged, a real roasty scent immediately apparent.
For the uninitiated, it's... well, interesting. An acquired taste, but not off-putting. It's thick and quite sweet, a strong cup of coffee with three or four sugars dumped in; or like the espresso at the bottom of a cup with the undissolved sugar still kicking around. There's a real body to it, almost like a cream soda. As if someone dropped espresso shots in one, really.
If you're an iced coffee fan, it's a refreshing departure, a little more quaffable, a little lighter. The diet version, on the other hand, is vile. If the normal version is three sugars in a coffee, the diet is about 7 packets of Nutra-Sweet. (Carey's got a high fake sugar tolerance, but she found this totally undrinkable.)
It's worth a try just to appreciate its history, and just to get a taste of old New York (order online if it's not in your area stores). But we're starting to think of other uses for it, too. A faux-affogato ice cream float, perhaps...?
About the authors: Carey Jones is the editor of Serious Eats New York and co-editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. Follow her on Twitter (@careyjones). John M. Edwards writes about soda and occasionally fast food for SE and eats 85% of the food Carey orders. Follow him on Twitter (@johnmedwards).