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Cricket, Anyone?

The next big thing in bold, cold beverages--green tea cola?

By David Templeton

Biz Stone, a computer programmer employed by Google.com, is a die-hard fan of a soft drink called Cricket Cola, a green tea-based beverage that has so captured Stone's fancy he's taken to writing eloquent, glowing descriptions of it on his well-designed blog site.

"The reason I first noticed it," he says when reached by phone, "and the main reason I wanted to try it, was because of the label. It's a very cool label. I want some really good graphic design in my fridge, so when people come over they can be, like, 'Hey, nice fridge.' I could tell that Cricket would look really nice with the bottles all lined up in a row. I'm a big fan of anything lined up in mass quantities. Good graphics just make it sweeter."

As for the stuff itself, once he tasted it--and they serve it in the cafeteria at Google, it turns out--he was hooked, appreciating it as a healthier alternative to products like Coke and Pepsi.

"Whenever I drink Diet Coke," he says, "all I can think about is that legend about someone leaving a nail in a glass of Coke, and the nail dissolving in two days. I don't know if that's true, but I can't help but think about it when I drink Coke. When I drink Cricket Cola, I can think, 'This stuff doesn't seem harsh enough to melt nails.'"

While such questions are best left to the young science-fair competitors within our public-school system, there is no question that Stone is not alone in his devotion to Cricket.

The Washington Post has proclaimed it the next "below-the-radar drink for hipsters." John Craven, of BevNET.com, a beverage-industry review site, calls green tea colas "the most unique innovation in carbonated soft drinks to hit the category in the past decade," singling out Cricket as one of the "cleanest" colas ever tasted by the experts at BevNET.com. George Clooney is a fan. He not only made sure that Cricket was available on the set of his now-canceled HBO television series K Street, but he allowed his actors to be filmed guzzling the stuff. David Tureaud, of Tureaud Events and Productions, is such a convert to Cricket that when producing the various parties and events at last year's Mill Valley Film Festival, he made Cricket Cola the sole soft drink available on the premises.

Of course, tea in bottles is nothing new.

Over the last several years, grocery-store shelves have been strained beneath a rapidly multiplying, tribble-like explosion of bottled tea drinks. Sporting exotic names like Tazo, Tejava, Tribal Tonics, SoBe and, uh, Snapple, tea-based beverages have become nearly as plentiful as soft drinks. Especially plentiful are those containing green tea. Green tea can now be found in all kinds of things: there's green tea ice cream, green tea power bars, even green tea breath mints. Available green tea beverages tend to mix the tea with everything from mango juice, cranberry juice and carrot juice to stuff like guarana, yohimbe and arginine. There are green tea sodas and green tea root beers.

It was only a matter of time till someone invented a green tea cola. Cricket, made from green tea and cola nut, hit the market last year, after being launched earlier in San Francisco by a Maryland-based startup. Cricket has since expanded into over a dozen states. Shortly thereafter, another green tea cola, Steaz, was debuted by the Healthy Beverage Company, makers of several green tea products, who have now established a whole line of green tea-based soft drinks. So far, the trend has not developed further, as industry watchers wait to see if there is a large enough market for green tea colas, and while the producers work to convince an already overwhelmed public that green tea and cola are flavors that were meant for one other.

Brewed in Los Angeles with a concentrated infusion of green tea equal to two full cups of green tea per bottle, Cricket--created by John and Mary Heron of Potomac, Md.--is marketed as "the world's first micro-cola," meaning that it's made in small batches with what Mary Heron assures is "tender loving care." Ads proclaiming Cricket to be "Happiness in a Bottle" might be pushing things a bit, but maybe only slightly, if one likens happiness to a gentle nonbuzzy surge in one's physical alertness and energy.

"It is naturally caffeinated," Heron says. "What you are getting is the natural caffeine that's found in those two concentrated cups of green tea. And the green tea is a mellow lift, not that spiky lift you get from chemical caffeine. It's not the jolt that races your heart, the kind I used to get from Diet Pepsi."

Yes, Heron is a recovered Pepsi drinker, whose path to creating a green tea cola began when her doctor told her to go cold turkey from chemical-rich drinks like Pepsi and Coke. Asked to affirm the Washington Post's prediction that Cricket would capture the "hipster" market, Heron hedges.

"We'd love to believe that all the cool people and the below-the-radar hipsters are drinking Cricket," she says, "but our audience is actually much wider than that."

Meaning what--even noncool people?

"Independent thinkers," Heron laughs. "People who happen to be cola drinkers, people seeking a nonmainstream alternative to Coke and Pepsi."

The only thing preventing those independent thinkers from adopting Cricket as their official drink of choice is that the stuff is still relatively hard to find. Even in the Google cafeteria, Cricket is only occasionally in stock.

That suits Biz Stone perfectly.

"It's fun for me, not ever knowing if it's going to be there," Stone says. "I like Cricket, but only once in a while because it has an unusual taste, and if I had it every day it would spoil the fun of having something unusual, and it would stop being unusual. Fortunately, the cafeteria at work does only stock it sometimes, so I always have to ask. I like the diet version, but sometimes they only have the nondiet version, so it's kind of like a big tease. 'Oh, no! Almost there but not quite!'"

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From the May 18-24, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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