Last year, Xumma Cola founder, Bradford Harris offered The Bold Italic samples of his delicious locally developed and produced semi-sweet soft drink. It was a hit with everyone here and we quickly drank our way through this generous gift. I had hoped to write something about Xumma (pronounced Zuh-Mah, not Zoo-Mah) but Bradford suggested I hold tight as they were in the midst of another round of refining their delicious beverage. 

Recently, Bradford was back in touch, offering more Xumma for The Bold Italic staff. The bottles have been redesigned and what's inside tastes even better than before, especially if you love cola, but don't love the crazy sweetness found in many popular drinks. Here's why: Xumma Semi Sweet Cola contains about half the sugar of traditional colas and is sweetened with cane sugar only; no high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, or stevia.

I asked Bradford to tell me a little more of Xumma's backstory:

What is the story behind the Xumma Semi Sweet Cola concept?

As a PhD candidate at Stanford University in the history of science, technology, and medicine, I became interested in the epidemiological and commercial history of sugar and artificial sweeteners. Given the scale of its consumption, most of my research on the topic focused on soda. Beyond confronting how excessively sugared most sodas are, I was surprised to learn just how controversial the health history of diet sodas and associated artificial sweeteners really is. 

I began to have several conversations with my dad, a former bottled water industry marketing consultant, about the future of soda. It seemed clear to us that people's love of soda was increasingly conflicted. Americans continued to drink more soda than bottled water, milk, coffee, or juice, but people were also growing weary of the traditional choice between excessively sugared soda on one hand (mostly with high fructose corn syrup) and artificially sweetened diet soda on the other. The question we posed to ourselves was: why not challenge that traditional, flawed industry paradigm by formulating a soda with a lot less sugar and no artificial sweeteners? 

You tested your formula at Stanford.  What kind of feedback did you get? Did anything surprise you?

Stanford students loved the idea of a semi sweet cola as much as we did, but they helped us to understand two specific things about how to successfully formulate it that we had not otherwise fully appreciated. First, it was very easy to remove too much sugar from a cola and produce a sour or bitter tasting beverage. So, although our initial formula had less than half the sugar of traditional colas, most students encouraged us to actually add back a bit of sugar to strike the right balance. Second, almost all students insisted that caffeine was integral to cola, and that they would almost never choose a cola without caffeine.

Are you from the Bay Area originally? If not, why launch Xumma here?

My family and I are from Maine.  I moved out to the Bay Area in 2008 for graduate school. Beyond the opportunity of being able to incubate our idea at Stanford, we felt that the Bay Area was the perfect place to launch Xumma because people in this community have a special knack for knowing how to enjoy themselves and be health conscientious at the same time, and because people here are exceptionally open to trying new things.

Do you see Xumma as exclusively a cola brand, or are you interested in expanding into other flavors or products?

Many people have told us that our "semi sweet soda" concept is so appealing that we should expand into flavors beyond cola. Although we may expand our flavors in the future, for now we are working to establish a definitive connection in people's minds between the unique name "Xumma" and the best cola on the market.

Find out more about Xumma at their website (including where you can purchase).