Sparkling like a tonic water, but with a coffee flavour: after arriving on the market in the 1980s, the Calabrian drink Brasilena quickly made inroads into the hearts of soft drink enthusiasts. A success initially limited to southern Italy (largely Calabria, then also in Puglia, Sicily and Campania) and today even landed abroad; in fact, it seems that Americans, Chinese and Australians have shown a certain interest in this effervescent sugar (perhaps too sugary so that a 'zero' version would not be a bad idea), made tantalizing by the explosive combination of aromas extracted from coffee. And meanwhile the product has become a social phenomenon in the region: "Let's meet tomorrow for a Brasilena" replaces the classic Italian "Let's meet for a coffee", especially after a certain time: when it's too late for a cup and too early for an aperitif alcohol.
It is not produced by a multinational, as one might think, but by a small company located in Monte Covello, in the province of Catanzaro: Acqua Calabria. When (and how) did this mineral water bottler start launching Brasilena on the market?
Brasilena: the history of the Calabrian coffee drink
We discover that the recipe for Brasilena is older than Acqua Calabria itself. “Years before our company was born, my grandfather had a small general store, where he prepared some drinks with the raw materials sold individually“, says the owner of the business, Cesare Cristofaro. “For example, he bought raw coffee and roasted it in-house. One day he thought of infusing it in sparkling water, obtaining a drink to quench the thirst of customers which he simply called "coffee soda". Unlike other products he had already created, such as ARANsud and LIMONsud, this one was decidedly innovative”. In the 1930s, however, the bottling of drinks followed different rules than today: the prefects of the province, in fact, issued authorizations based on the local population, and Girifalco – the Cristofaro family's town of origin – had few inhabitants. In that period, therefore, Cesare's grandfather was forced to sell his bulk soda, without being able to register any trademark.
Acqua Calabria and the Brasilena brand
Everything changed after the Second World War, “because many small companies were in danger of closing down, so authorizations gradually relaxed. In the meantime, the obligation has arisen to indicate the name of the owner and the list of ingredients on the label”, explains Cesare. "Paradoxically, the lack of funding to obtain bottles and print labels led to the bankruptcy of many small Calabrian artisans, who until then had not considered the problem of packaging".
The Cristofaros held out and in the 1960s Cesare's father opened a factory specializing in the bottling of beverages, registering the name “Brasilena” for the first time. However, he wanted the drink to contain quality ingredients with specific characteristics: for this reason, in the 1970s, the company began to include Calabrian low-mineral water in the coffee drink (and to bottle it separately). “In 1982 the plant was reopened in larger premises, which allows us to make various drinks: in addition to water and the Brasilena with coffee, there is also the lemon one, which is more like a soda”.
Ingredients and packaging of the Calabrian soft drink
Brasilena is quite democratic: consumers cover all age groups, even if the area of greatest diffusion remains southern Italy. But what is behind the success of this simple sugary coffee drink? “Perhaps it is appreciated precisely for its versatility: it is thirst-quenching and can be drunk alone or used to make cocktails. The recipe includes only natural flavors extracted from coffee, infused in our mineral water. We buy it from a Calabrian supplier, who has studied a specific blend for us". Of course, preservatives are also added to maintain the product.
The packaging, on the other hand, is unmistakable: the graphics of the logo on the label have references to the colors and details typical of the 60s, precisely to convey the idea of the historicity of the drink (the original design appears in the photo). Not only that: “the packaging reflects the ethics of our company”, underlines Cesare, “always very attentive to ecology. 80% of the bottles are made of glass, while the others are packaged in aluminum cans due to the needs of a certain number of customers. But we prefer glass, it is clear, both to differentiate ourselves and to guarantee the reuse of the material”
As we said at the beginning, Brasilena has also had success outside of Italy. How did it win over overseas consumers? “First of all, in some foreign countries there are very active and deep-rooted Calabrian communities who try to keep in touch with their land by buying regional products: Brasilena is a characteristic drink, which brings to mind the flavors and aromas of Calabria. By making it tasted by the inhabitants of the place where they moved, therefore, the Calabrians have certainly contributed to making it popular beyond national borders. Morally, it is a pleasure to see that we have become a point of reference for foreigners too”. Now Cesare is also beginning to dialogue with North African buyers who have expressed great interest in Brasilena, "above all thanks to the Moroccan communities which, in recent years, have grown rapidly in Calabria". It is no coincidence that the label has been translated into various languages, including Arabic.
The next target? “Entering the list of historic brands. Because Brasilena was born in a small Calabrian emporium, from the inventiveness of a craftsman. And my grandfather would have been proud."
Source Gambero Rosso