How canned espresso martini brand Deloce is bringing back a '90s classic

Espresso martini brand Deloce has been in the works since 2019 and went live this past spring. We chat with cofounder Sean Zoka to go inside the brand and learn more about the canned cocktail space.

Melissa Li

Contributing Writer
Espresso martini brand Deloce offered product drops before launching more widely in April. (Photo: Deloce)
FOUNDER INTERVIEW

The espresso martini is everywhere (again), says the New York Times. And there’s no question of why — after a year in isolation, Americans are going to bars again and returning to classic orders this summer. Deloce is leading the espresso martini comeback, touted as one of the hottest canned drink contenders right now.

Recently at Thingtesting, we’ve seen the rise of ready-to-drink cocktails, now the fastest-growing alcohol beverage category in the U.S. Take a look around Thingtesting's Drinks category and you'll find canned cocktails of all types - mimosas made by Ohza, tequila spritzers by Volley, old fashions from Tip Top and Moth Drinks and countless others.

Founded by Sean Zoka and Keaton Moody and crafted in California, Deloce is a cold-pressed, dairy-free and gluten-free espresso martini in a can. What exactly goes into (re)making this throwback cocktail? Thingtesting catches up with Deloce to go inside the brand and learn more about the category.

Thingtesting: What opening did you see in the instant contemporary cocktail market?

Sean Zoka: My partner Keaton and I’s favorite cocktail was always the espresso martini. Long story short, it was early Sunday mornings on the golf course following a long Saturday night. We’d play some pretty poor rounds – we’d be tired from the night before with headaches! Eventually, we realized that our favorite cocktail, the espresso martini, would be perfect for the situation. The clubhouse didn’t have them, so we couldn’t get the alcohol or the caffeine that would wake us up in the morning. We realized there was a need for, but a lack of, an instantly enjoyable boost and buzz, both in one can.

We did market research and found out there were some brands offering products along the lines of what we were looking for, but they couldn’t hit it out of the park on nutrition facts and taste. When formulating Deloce, brand aside, we had ‘better for you’ and ‘great taste’ in mind. We held our liquid to a high standard to ensure we’d put something out in the market that we too would drink.

We’re at 109 calories, 3g of sugar and 5g of carbs per serving. What sets us apart is that we use real cold-pressed espresso. We source the best coffee we can get our hands on from Colombia, we oversee the roasting process to a light medium roast, and we cold-press our espresso in house with the help of our co-packer. It’s not a coffee extract, and we’re not ordering it in bulk from a mysterious supplier who’s ordering it from all different places; I know exactly which farm we’re getting our coffee from.

TT: Across emerging brands, we're seeing nostalgia for times gone by and a resurgence of 90's trends. Does this translates into the espresso martini's comeback as well?

SZ: Keaton and I saw the bounce back in 2019, and though we had no data to prove it, we just knew. I like knowing that we’re not trend-hopping; we’ve been working on this a long time and the publications are starting to pick up on it now. I don’t think it’s a trend; it’s a wave, especially coming out of Covid-19 — people are going to go out a lot and it’s going to be a good opportunity for people to consume this cocktail a lot.

TT: Can you share a little bit about the branding choices behind Deloce’s packaging?

SZ: We broke down what the espresso martini really is, because we wanted to be intentional with it. It’s classy and elegant because it’s served in a martini glass, it’s fast and energetic because of the espresso, and it’s kind of Italian because of the espresso too. We put all of those different aspects of the cocktail into one and tried to find something that really embodies all of those different variables.

We found these beautiful 1970's Italian rally cars and we really wanted to model our packaging after that, to bring it to life. That old vintage sports car look and feel was what we were going for, mixing in some contemporary art elements - especially with the color schemes on those race cars - because we think the espresso martini is a rather contemporary cocktail. It makes me happy when people pick up the can and say 'Wow, this looks like a race car!'

TT: What's happening in the alcohol space right now and any insight on what we should watch for?

SZ: Unfortunately, people were drinking more at home during the pandemic, but it poises the industry better to transition to e-commerce. The pandemic affected our business so we focused more on the off-premise at first (grocery stores and liquor stores) as opposed to the on-premise (bars, restaurants, nightclubs), but that was just to start. Now we have a good mix of amazing on-premise partners, like Marquee Dayclub in Las Vegas as well as Ashland Hill in Los Angeles. Covid-19 taught us that being omnichannel is important. We now know that if one of these black swan events happens, we can still have at least two channels that are still generating revenue and give us time to pivot.

From 2019-2020 the hard coffee category exploded by 11,000%, and I’m excited to see the numbers from this year. We’re going in the right direction as an industry [but that means] there’s going to be some big players in here soon. Brand wins, liquid comes second [which] encourages repeat buyers, so we need to make sure that we’re front and center because soon it’ll be a busy category. There’s only going to be a handful of winners that come out.

Brand takes years to build and it’s the biggest moat for any business. For us, luckily, it’s our cold pressed espresso that our co-packer makes in a proprietary way. The fact that we’ve been able to make our cocktail shelf stable is impressive too. I know from experience that it takes a long time to make espresso and alcohol ‘better for you’ in a can, shelf stable and taste good. It’s not easy but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

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