Both Three Trees and The Living Apothecary offer a Matcha Green Tea flavored almond milk. (Alix Wall)
As almond milk continues to grow in popularity – drought be damned – two local companies are distinguishing themselves by offering a variety of different flavors; everything from matcha to ginger to chai to cacao to turmeric to a root beer float.
“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, a business that began in Oakland, in 2012, then moved to Berkeley, and will soon be 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.”
It’s worthy of mention that the fresh almond milk that these two companies make – and is found in the refrigerated section – is a world of difference than those found in tetrapaks, and it’s more expensive as well. While the latter can sit on store shelves for months, the fresh ones have a relatively short shelf life – eight days for The Living Apothecary and three to four weeks for Three Trees, but both only last a few days once opened – because both of these brands have no fillers or preservatives in them.
Curry was a mixologist at Berkeley’s Rivoli Restaurant, and became known for her produce-heavy cocktails that changed with the seasons. She became friendly with a server on staff there, Traci Hunt who was a juicing enthusiast, and they launched their business focusing mostly on pressed juices, but with lines of almond milks and probiotic tonics, too.
This January, they decided to drop the pressed juices and focus only on their 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.
While they launched with four flavors of almond milk: regular, cacao rose, turmeric snap and ginger vanilla bean, they’ve since added matcha, 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,” and 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 they are sourcing their almonds from Spain, where they can get high quality organic almonds.
“With the drought, we feel a bit more passionate about not contributing to it,” said Curry, which is why they went from sourcing their almonds locally to getting them from abroad. “However, the almond industry is a fluctuating world, and we’re trying to do our best. 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, explaining that with almond milk, you get all of the nutrients of the almonds, but without the high fat content, and the nut milk is also a rich source of vitamin E.
Meanwhile, 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 as well, she too narrowed down her product line, deciding to just 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, she 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 – in which it also comes in a large size – it 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 does – a chai spice, which has no caffeine, cocoa and matcha.
The company positions the 12-oz 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.”
In summary, here are the main differences between the two: while both companies have a matcha flavor, all of their other flavors are different from each other. Three Trees is definitely thicker, making it more like a milkshake, and 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. 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) and The Living Apothecary uses dates as its sweetening agent, while Three Trees uses organic cane sugar, because they prefer the taste. Also, the Living Apothecary currently uses organic almonds from Spain, while Three Trees gets its non-organic almonds from the Central Valley. 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; they are just different, and 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 go for 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, not only almonds, with coffee, coconut, vanilla, chocolate, matcha and walnuts and honey; 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).