by Alix Wall, Bay Area Bites
As almond milk continues to grow in popularity — drought be damned — two local companies are distinguishing themselves by offering a variety of different flavors. They’re selling everything from matcha, ginger and chai to cacao, turmeric and even root beer float.
The Living Apothecary and Three Trees are both women-owned businesses. And while one is now based in San Mateo, and the other is in the process of building its own kitchen space in Richmond, they both have roots in Berkeley. For a time, in fact, they both operated out of The Berkeley Kitchens.
“It could been seen as hard when there’s more competition, but I like to think that we’re all creating a legitimate beverage space for almond milk. We’re all helping to make it more of an accessible and understood beverage,” said Shari Stein Curry, a founder of The Living Apothecary. Her business began in Oakland in 2012, moved to Berkeley, and will soon be based in Richmond.
“We all have a similar mentality so I’m all about being supportive and building each other up, because ultimately that will create more space and more markets will want to pick us up,” she said.
It’s worthy of mention that the fresh almond milk that these two companies make (it’s found in the refrigerated section) is a world of difference away from those found in tetrapaks. It’s more expensive as well. While the latter can sit on store shelves for months, these fresh milks have a relatively short shelf life because both of these brands have no fillers or preservatives in them. The Living Apothecary is good for eight days and Three Trees will last for three to four weeks unopened. Once the lid is popped, however, you’ve got to drink the milks in a few days.
Before founding The Living Apothecary, Curry was a mixologist at Berkeley’s Rivoli Restaurant. There, she became known for her produce-heavy cocktails that changed with the seasons. She became friendly with Traci Hunt, a server who was a juicing enthusiast. They launched their business focusing mostly on pressed juices, but added lines of almond milks and probiotic tonics, too.
This January, they decided to drop the pressed juices and focus only on almond milks and tonics, which are made from kefir grains.
“It was an emotional decision but our business has dictated what’s needed to happen, and we’re more focused now,” said Curry.
The Living Apothecary launched with four flavors of almond milk: regular, cacao rose, turmeric snap and ginger vanilla bean. Since then, they’ve since added matcha and root beer float. “We needed to create our own syrup to make it healthy, so we use dates, molasses, sasparilla, burdock root and juniper berries,” said Curry. “It’s such a beautiful syrup that’s actually healthy.” The Living Apothecary also sells a cacao peppermint almond cashew milk that was meant to be seasonal, but sold so well that they’ve kept it year-round.
A flavored 13-ounce bottle sells for $7.99 on the online marketplace Good Eggs.
Currently Curry and Hunt are sourcing their almonds from Spain, where they can get high quality organic almonds. Curry said they switched from sourcing almonds locally to getting them from abroad because of the drought. “We feel a bit more passionate about not contributing to it. … However, the almond industry is a fluctuating world, and we’re trying to do our best,” she said. “We have some relationships with some farmers in the area who are pesticide-free and can’t afford to be certified as organic. We could potentially switch over at some point.”
The only sweetener they use is dates. “People are floored by our flavors, and they have so many nutritional benefits,” said Curry. She added that with almond milk, you can get all of the nutrients of the almonds, but without the high fat content. Almond milk is also a rich source of vitamin E.
Three Trees was founded by Jenny Eu, who also set out to create a pure, healthful plant-based beverage. While she offered pistachio and cashew milks at first, she too narrowed down her product line and decided to focus on almond milk.
Lauren Burnett, a production manager at Three Trees, said the company did not feel it could keep its product at a reasonable price point if they used organic almonds, so they source conventional almonds from the Central Valley. When asked about the drought, Salleigh Knox, operations manager, said, “We’ve built in fluctuating almond pricing into our price on the shelves, so now we don’t foresee passing on additional costs to our consumers. But we’re listening to the news like everyone else.”
Given that there is a lot of talk about how much water is used to produce one almond, Knox said, “Everything we grow uses water, and almonds have a spotlight on them because they’re a high-yielding crop. We don’t want to point fingers, as everyone can help with the drought by using water more efficiently.”
Three Trees is the almond milk supplier for Blue Bottle Coffee stores in the Bay Area, and it’s sold in about 15 markets.
In addition to unsweetened regular, Three Trees comes in vanilla, which they say tastes a bit like melted vanilla ice cream; cold-brewed coffee, which has a third the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee; chai spice, which has no caffeine; cocoa; and matcha.
The company positions the 12-ounce size, which retails on Good Eggs for $6.99, as “a healthy indulgence for breakfast, or on your way out the door, or when you need something to hold you over between meals,” said Burnett. “It fills you up but not so much that you’re not hungry for dinner.” Three Trees regular almond milks also come in a 1-liter bottle.
Three Trees almond milk is definitely thicker than the offerings from The Living Apothecary, making it more like a milkshake. Indeed, “some of our customers feel they can have one as an afternoon pick-me-up and not feel as guilty as if they had a milkshake,” said Burnett.
In addition, both companies soak their almonds to make them more easily digestible. The Living Apothecary uses glass bottles, while Three Trees uses plastic. (Those who buy the Living Apothecary at the Farmers Markets can and do bring their bottles back for re-use.) The Living Apothecary uses dates as its sweetening agent, while Three Trees uses organic cane sugar because they prefer the taste. Both companies sell single sizes of their flavored milks, and large-sized plain ones.
While both companies provided me with plenty of samples, I didn’t find myself liking one company over the other. The milks are just different. My guess is that most people will probably just choose by which flavor they like the best, though those looking more for a milkshake-like treat will be predisposed to go for Three Threes, and those who prefer organic and/or no sugar will pick The Living Apothecary.
This is certainly an expanding market. While the two companies profiled above certainly offer more in terms of their selection of flavors, there are plenty of other Bay Area companies making other flavored almond milks. MilkmanSF has coconut almond and a kit for making your own cacao almond milk. Forager offers nut milks made from a variety of nuts with coffee, coconut, vanilla, chocolate, matcha and walnuts and honey flavors. Happy Moose Juice offers vanilla and chocolate almond milk. Pop & Bottle offers vanilla and chai. Urban Remedy offers regular and matcha. Marin Living Foods has regular, vanilla and chia seeds, and a cacao almond smoothie. (Did we miss anyone? Please announce yourselves in the comments if we did.)
Bay Area Bites (BAB), KQED’s public media food blog, shares visually compelling food-related stories, news, recipes and reviews from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.