Plow & Gun Coffee's Ian Riley and Daniel Kent had an idea: Carbonate their cold-brew, add cardamom and piloncillo and create a coffee soda to sell alongside their beans and cold-brews at their stand at the Altadena Farmers Market.
And yet, even if such a drink would be perfect for the summer weather, the pair worried that they would be ridiculed, laughed out of the coffee community and forever known as “those idiots making coffee soda.” As it turns out, this coffee pop is such a welcome take on your standard iced coffee that the two probably don't need to worry too much about an excommunication. To the contrary, perhaps.
The success of the drink aside, the farmers market may have been the best place for Riley and Kent to test their membership in the coffee community: The low overhead makes it easy to adjust if some plans (i.e., coffee soda or making pour-over coffee in hot, dry summer weather) don't exactly work out (the hot coffee is off the menu and will be back in the fall).
Indeed, this adapt-as-you-go nature of the farmers market stand is particularly fitting for the pair. The plow and gun, they explain on their Facebook page, was an 1862 invention that combined a plow and a gun for the convenience of the farmer under attack (plant a seed, shoot a trespasser). Perhaps for obvious reasons, the wayward combination never took off; nonetheless, Riley and Kent were taken with the rugged craftiness that compelled the contraption. And so they set up at the farmers market with not much more than a counter built by Kent and freshly roasted beans packed in hand-printed coffee bags.
With six years of experience in the coffee industry, Riley roasts the beans with an ethos that echoes Tony Konecny's roasting philosophy: Pick great coffee and then get out of its way. After all, coffee has a natural sweetness and, as Riley says, his job is to accentuate that sweetness while balancing it with the coffee's acidity.
Which brings us back to the coffee pop. In addition to pour-overs and cold-brews, the pair wanted to offer a creative drink akin to the type of signature drinks baristas create for competitions. Riley considered how a cold-brew lacks acidity and started looking for ways to make it more acidic and flavorful. This is where the bubbles come in; that, along with the sweetness and spice of the piloncillo and cardamom, makes the coffee soda pop. In the spirit of all things local, the pair also offers a coffee soda float, using ice cream from Mother Moo Creamery.
Plow & Gun's coffee pop may very well turn out to be its John Hancock, a signature drink that — unlike a plow and a gun — somewhat improbably succeeds on its own terms. And that, as Riley and Kent might say, is the Plow & Gun way.
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