I spotted BibiCaffè at a small coffee shop in Seattle last month, and something about the hot and muggy day, the soda's description as containing "hints of vanilla and caramel," and the barista's fervent recommendation won me over. She handed me a cold little bottle of espresso soda, with an old-fashioned label. "Try it with half-and-half," she said. "It's like a root beer float when the ice cream melts." BibiCaffè is an Italian thing. It was first cooked up in Calabria, Italy, in 1930, when two cousins (according to the BibiCaffè family lore) learned how to make “coffee sodas” from their uncle Vincenzo Ferrise. The two cousins worked for the next ten years to finesse the soda in modern factories. Ever since then this has been a very popular soda in southern Italy. I took the soda back to my table and poured it out. It's dark and sticky, like root beer, with a faint tang of coffee. I took a sip. So sweet! But strong and dark, too, like a good espresso. Then there are notes of caramel and vanilla, like a good scoop of ice cream.
I took the barista's advice and tried it with a swirl of cream, and it did indeed taste like a sweet and creamy dessert, punctuated by coffee fizz. Upon further inspection, it turned out that the soda has no preservatives, no artificial flavors and colors, and no high fructose corn syrup. The flavor shows this, too; it doesn't have the tinny false flavors that many modern sodas do. It was a sweet, delicious way to cool off on a hot summer day, refreshing and bubbly with all the pleasure of a small treat. I would never substitute it for a morning espresso, and I probably will drink it rarely. But when I do find it and sip it, BibiCaffè is a pleasure of a treat. • More about BibiCaffè: BibiCaffè website • Find it: BibiCaffè by the case, $35.99 at Koobie's Coffee. Currently out of stock, but expected back in soon. Related: How To Make Soda Water at Home (Images: Faith Durand)