Coffee in a Can with Bubbles

Comeback’s fresh take on the canned coffee craze

Photography by Chip Chockley

The word “coffee” likely draws images of a steaming cup of caffeinated liquid savored on a chilly morning, or maybe a refreshing cup of iced coffee enjoyed in the sunshine. But it’s time for old-school coffee to make some room. Canned coffee, and specifically coffee soda, is here to change the game and contend for a spot as a coveted beverage in homes around the country.

Canned drinks are on the rise in the food and beverage industry. While sodas have been on shelves for decades, canned cocktails have gained momentum in the last few years and more variations of canned delights continue to arrive. With the increased popularity of these drinks, one main beverage group—coffee—is just beginning to break into the canned craze.

And Comeback Coffee in Memphis’s Pinch District is taking canned coffee to delicious new levels.

“Canned coffee looks a thousand different ways,” explains Hayes McPherson, co-owner of Comeback Coffee alongside his wife, Amy. Most canned coffees offer established selections like black coffee, lattes, and nitros. Only a very small sector of the canned coffee industry includes coffee sodas, and the McPhersons have recognized that hole in the market. 

“We knew we could make it more approachable,” says Amy. The McPhersons’ enthusiasm for the drink is driving them to innovate with new flavors and extend the beverage’s reach locally and nationally.

But let’s back up for a moment. What is coffee soda anyway? From the name alone, there’s an air of mystery—or to some it’s an air of distrust, even disgust. A rather polarizing drink because of its distinctiveness, coffee soda is a bubbly, cool, coffee-based beverage that can have flavors ranging from fruity to creamy caramel. Maintaining the integrity of the coffee flavor and bringing a unique spin to the drink is important to the McPhersons, and they offer a freshly brewed take on a classic beverage.

Trying one of Comeback’s coffee sodas for the first time is a sensory experience.

The cans, designed by local artist Macon Wilson, transport consumers to dreamy locations like fields of sunflowers. As you pop the tab, you hear the satisfying fizz of the soda, and the tingle of anticipation reaches your taste buds. The first drops are sweet, then tangy, an unexpected cornucopia of flavors, like lemon and thyme, melding with coffee. It’s tempting to exhale “ahhhh” after that first sip and sink into the “refreshingly familiar” taste that’s become the tagline of the company.

To understand how far Comeback and its canned coffee sodas have come, go back a few years to when Comeback was a new shop and the small staff canned sodas by hand in the kitchen. There was strong demand for the bubbly brown liquid, a surprise to Hayes and Amy initially. Like any good entrepreneurial pursuit, the operation expanded into a garage behind Comeback. Despite the added space, keeping up with consumers’ demand for canned coffee sodas was challenging. The team worked diligently, but no matter how many drinks they produced, often 100 a day, they would sell out in an hour and a half.

Seeing a gap in the market that their coffee soda filled, Hayes and Amy decided to expand, creating an extension of the coffee shop brand. Comeback Beverage Co. was founded to focus on producing the sought-after canned coffee sodas. 

Though they hadn’t initially planned to lean heavily into the canned coffee industry, the support they’ve received and the vision they have for the future has led them there—and they’re planning yet another wave of expansion for Comeback.

Determined to invest in the Pinch District they know and love, the McPhersons are positioning their business as a permanent fixture on North Main with the addition of a manufacturing facility two doors down from the shop that gave them their start. In addition to space for canning the sodas, the 10,000 square foot facility, set to open this spring, will house a street-view greenhouse for Comeback’s neighbor and sister business, Golden Hour, as well as a roasting room and office space on the second floor. 

Though they love connecting with patrons in the shop, Hayes and Amy are excited to have a dedicated space for their staff to focus as Comeback Beverage Co. expands to the next level, hopefully solidifying canned coffee soda as a mainstay with grocers nationwide.

We’re really excited about this space for what this means in regards to pushing Memphis coffee even further nationally,” says Hayes.

More than four years after opening the doors of Comeback Coffee, the McPhersons are proud of what they’ve built and the coffee ecosystem they continue to foster. They’ve developed a community by partnering with roasters, artists, and other businesses, and created a unique beverage whose tasty flavors are not easily forgotten. 

“Coffee soda’s where we began,” Hayes reflects. But it won’t be where Comeback ends.

Laura Bonds grew up in North Little Rock before crossing the Mighty Mississippi to attend Rhodes College and has been in Memphis ever since. She loves to explore and experience the world around her—whether in Memphis or miles away.

Chip Chockley, an attorney by day, has been a professional photographer since 2008. Things that make him happy include tacos, mai tais, and his wife and kids. @chipchockley