Pre-bottled coffee drinks were—until Black Medicine—a bit of a tricky subject for me. My experience with commercial coffee beverages has always been aggravatingly "samey." Pretty much every bottled coffee drink that I've had suffers from the same underlying "bottled coffee" taste that makes it a bit hard to get excited about new coffee beverages when I see them on store shelves. Luckily, I now have a notable exception to the standard—a drink that I am more than happy to say has reformed my pre-conceived notions about the potential of the bottled coffee market segment.
Black Medicine is a fantastic new bottled iced coffee from a small but growing Californian brewing company of the same name. It breaks the iced coffee stereotypes in a lot of different ways, the most immediately noticeable of which being the packaging. Black Medicine is presented as a very mature, "grown up" coffee. There's nothing artificially catchy or "hipster-friendly" about the drink: no slogans or puns or trite comments about how crazy your buzz is going to be after you drink it. The marketing is not over-engineered to appeal to the coffee crowd, nor is it caught up in expressing the individuality of the beverage. It is a simply a high-quality coffee presented as such—a welcome change in a world of often over-marketed, hype-driven beverages.
The bottle itself feels great in the hand, too. The design resembles that of a standard beer bottle—all the way down to the brown-hued glass, narrow neck, and unthreaded metal cap. The sophisticated look of the bottle is great from a visual perspective, but its "beer-like" appearance may cause some hesitation in certain social and business environments. I walked into my campus library with one of these in my hand a few days ago, and it elicited some pretty suspicious glances from several of the security guards. Although it did cause me a moment's worry, this design is actually a pretty smart move. It definitely gets eyes focused on the bottle. But you may just want to be prepared to answer a few astonished questions if you plan on showing up to your next board meeting with a bottle of Black Medicine in tow.
As far as taste is concerned, Black Medicine is by far the finest bottled coffee that I've had in quite some time. I would not really consider myself a seasoned coffee expert, as I've only really been drinking the stuff for the past year or two, but I have tasted enough bottled coffee drinks in the past to know that Black Medicine exists on a different tier of quality than most of its cream and sugar-laden competitors. It is a different product altogether—a product that represents a commitment to quality and an appreciation of nuance rather than just another attempt to appeal to the less demanding preferences of the average morning commuter.
Black Medicine is hot-brewed from a combination of three carefully-selected and distinct coffee beans. As a result, the flavor of the coffee is complex and interesting while remaining pleasant and well-balanced. The primary flavor of the coffee has a "toasted" quality that reminds me of a barley-centric stout or porter. The flavor is described on the Black Medicine website as being "fruit-forward," and it's definitely true. The taste on your tongue has noticeable traces of fruitiness that balance well with the more aromatic roasted flavors, making Black Medicine a delicious experience no matter how you prefer to drink your coffee. As the name suggests, it does come unsweetened. This is fine with me, as I already prefer my coffee black, but I think that many who try the drink will find Black Medicine flavorful enough on its own to not require the sweetening that our collective societal palate has come to expect. The team at Black Medicine has managed to achieve a flavor profile that is diverse and complicated enough to intrigue long-time coffee enthusiasts while remaining gentle and approachable enough to also appeal to the less frequent coffee drinker—a difficult task that deserves considerable recognition.
Those looking for a pick-me-up won't be disappointed with Black Medicine, either. Because of the unique (and proprietary) way that Black Medicine is brewed, the makers are able to extract more caffeine from the beans. Each serving of Black Medicine contains up to 50% more caffeine than a similar size serving of regular coffee, making it a great choice for those times when you just need to get some things done. Additionally, Black Medicine features an added portion of Vitamin C (15% of the daily recommended value) that helps sweeten an already appealing pot for the health-conscious energy seeker who wants to avoid the dubious contents of most of the other offerings from the conventional energy drink market.
My only complaint about Black Medicine is that, at least for me, it is a lot of coffee in one serving. I have a strange sensitivity to coffee that triggers abdominal cramping and indigestion if I drink too much at one time. Black Medicine's 12 oz. serving size is about 4 oz. above my tolerance, making it hard—or at least unwise—for me to enjoy the entire beverage in one go. Normally, this would not even be an issue worth mentioning, as there are plenty of drinks that I prefer to finish in multiple servings. However, Black Medicine's standard metal bottle cap means that the drink is not easily resealable once it has been opened. This is not a huge concern, and I don't know that I would want the cap any other way (it's a big part of the look of the drink), but I do know that I am not alone in my preference to drink smaller portions of coffee, so the "one-shot" nature of the bottle is just something to keep in mind if you don't intend to finish the drink in a single sitting. It may be a good idea to bring a reusable bottle or other sealable container along with you so that you can preserve the flavor for as long as possible between servings.
Black Medicine is great however you choose to drink it, whether it be straight from the bottle, poured over ice, mixed with cream and sugar, or even heated up in the microwave. I've tried it every way but hot, and it worked well with every serving style. I really like this one a lot, and I am always happy to have my initial reservations about a drink (or type of drink) proven wrong. Black Medicine is a gleaming example of bottled coffee done right, and I recommend wholeheartedly that you track one down and give it a try.
Verdict: Highly recommended
Samples sent courtesy of Black Medicine.
For more information about Black Medicine and their upcoming news and products, as well as information about how to purchase Black Medicine, visit their official website.