In 2018, Sandro Roco was strolling past the cold beverages in H-Mart, a Korean grocery store in Manhattan with locations across the country, when he noticed a discrepancy. Next to the stacks of what he calls "well-branded" new-wave American "better-for-you" sodas and seltzers, he saw displays of legacy Asian brands that Roco says "bank on nostalgia, with packaging that hasn't been touched in a couple of decades and side panels that tell a pretty bad story in terms of chemical compounds and preservatives." But there was no in between.
The problem was, those newer brands didn't represent the flavors that Roco grew up loving. A Filipino-American, Roco had always believed that calamansi—a fruit found ubiquitously throughout the Philippines which tastes somewhere between a tart lime and fragrant tangerine—was "the best possible version of citrus." But among those flashy cans of Spindrift and LaCroix he could only find lemon, lime, and grapefruit.
We sipped our way through 17 brands to find the best lime seltzer on the market. Did your favorite bubble up to the top?
That's when he got the idea for Sanzo, a line of natural sparkling waters flavored with real fruit juice—fans of Spindrift will recognize the model. But instead of the flavor staples found across the majority of American seltzer brands, Roco is focused on "celebrating Asian flavors that have too often been relegated to the ethnic aisle." (Which is a good thing since that "ethnic" aisle is on its way out.)
He started by developing a version with calamansi—which is often used as a garnish for Filipino roasts, stews, and soups, as well as squeezed into a lemonade-like drink that's served both hot and cold. The bright citrus pop of this flavor has made it a popular choice for seltzer lovers in New York since Roco launched the brand. When I brought samples to a recent meeting at Epicurious, those green cans went first.
The other two flavors in Sanzo's current line are an earthy, sweet Alphonso Mango (what's known as the king of India's mangoes) and a floral, delicate lychee, which he sources from Thailand. If you're the type to mix seltzer and booze, I can tell you from experience that the mango is a great partner for rum and a splash of ginger liqueur—I prefer the lychee with a bit of gin.
Roco's working on new flavors and says he'd like to eventually have seven to ten varieties in rotation using fruits native to even more regions of Asia. Those first three though? They're ready now: fully carbonated, in sleek packaging that'll fit right in on your grocer's shelf—and with your modern seltzer-drinking aesthetic.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious