Brooklyn-based visual designer and Founder Thi Lam doesn’t like the taste of black coffee, an “awkward” problem he also has a lot to be thankful for. That’s because his quest to find, and ultimately create, a refreshing coffee-based beverage without a bitter espresso taste resulted in caffeinated innovation even the most die-hard aficionado would find intriguing. If that weren’t enough, he’s created a whole new drinks category to boot.
Together with ex-colleague Brent Lagerman, Thi co-founded sparkling coffee company Keepers. Their signature drink is a combination of house roasted and brewed organic coffee combined with fresh-pressed Florida tangerine juice and gentle carbonation, has garnered the duo an active fan base and coveted Whole Foods contract in just two years.
Now a cult product as much for its flavor as original packaging and design, Keepers started as an experiment in brewing citrus-infused caffeinated sodas, a drink inspired by Italian and Australian espresso-based citrus beverages (think coffee tonic). However Lam’s taste adventure quickly evolved into a full-time project that led the two founders on a journey around the coffee flavor wheel, developing roasting expertise, original flavor pairings and commercial production in the process.
Settling on fresh, craft ingredients and a refrigerated can format, the creative duo launched Keepers in 2016 complete with eye-catching branding. Result? Instant appeal (without the instant coffee—although that’s changing, too). “We didn’t want to go the concentrate route. It makes economic sense but we wanted to do something that was real.” While the resulting $3.99 per can price tag might seem prohibitive, Lam stands behind his choice to use quality fresh ingredients over processed, shelf-stable (and cheaper) alternatives.
As it turns out his conviction paid off. Ensue media acclaim and a host of pitch opportunities with investors through their production space, Pilotworks. “We wanted to be the fun brand but now we’ve grown up,” says Lam.
Despite all that, Keepers is still very much a grassroots project. Both founders still work day jobs to keep craft production afloat while Largerman also tends to his family. Lam, who originally focused on social work in the Bronx, hopes Keepers can create opportunities to give back to the communities he once served in the form of projects to support kids growing up in challenging environments.
For now, both are banking on this summer’s Kickstarter campaign to fund their next innovation: “Keepers Black,” a zero sugar version of their original product that “drinks like a sparkling water and tastes like high end coffee.”
Time will tell if customers and Kickstarter backers agree. For now their citrus sparkling coffee is available to order online and in the refrigerated sections at northeast branches of Whole Foods.
Images courtesy of Keepers.