Succeeding in the energy drink market can be both challenging and liberating: while it’s challenging for a brand to overcome negative perceptions associated with energy drinks, there’s freedom and possibility in developing a novel energy blend with a unique flavor and sweetness profile. However, in developing an energy drink that more closely resembles coffee than soda, there are a whole new set of challenges. People can be rather particular about how their coffee tastes, and a quick glance at a coffee flavor wheel demonstrates the multitude of different flavor characteristics available. How do you develop a product that pleases both energy drink consumers and coffee drinkers alike?

The Energy Drink of the Month for July 2015 is Hiball Energy Coffee.

HiBalll Energy Coffee

The three flavors available are Vanilla, Coffee, and Mocha. In my opinion, all of them are equally pleasant — not too bitter or sweet; not too thin or too creamy. These beverages were rolled out March 2015 and can be found at your local Whole Foods Market.

GREEN-EYED INSIGHT on Hiball Energy Coffee

What’s In It and Why?

The words across the top of the can indicate the ingredients Hiball Energy is most proud of: 100% arabica cold brew coffee – milk – sugar – guarana – ginseng – B-vitamins. We’ll discuss each of these in turn.

  • Coffee is the dominant flavor and the primary source of caffeine. Some caffeine also comes from guarana extract, and we’ll discuss the implications of the total amount of caffeine momentarily. Gurarana extract is preferable to whole guarana seed because, in my experience, the extract is usually cleaner in terms of microbiology and heavy metal content. This coffee-guarana combination is what defines these products as coffee/energy drink hybrids.
  • Excerpt from Guarana chapter in Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks — How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely:
  • “Guarana was declared the “national beverage” of Brazil, where it’s as popular as soda and as common as coffee. Guarana seeds contain more caffeine than any other plant in the world – from 3.8 to 5.8 percent. The numbers seem small but this is more than twice the
    amount of caffeine in coffee beans.”

  • Since these products are more akin to coffee than a typical energy drink, the inclusion of milk and cream make sense. However, you cannot nurse these as you would an energy drink. With a soda-based energy drink, you could leave it at room temperature and sip it throughout the day to make the caffeine boost last (this is the lesson of Mr. Thrift versus Mr. Swift in the Energy Drink Guide). If you leave these Hiball Energy coffee beverages at room temperature beyond 2 to 4 hours, the milk could make you sick.
  • Like other energy beverages, these products contain panax ginseng and a collection of B vitamins. Ginseng has a few suspected-but-unproven health benefits associated with it, but the most important detail here is that it’s panax ginseng, not Siberian, white, or red ginseng. The B-vitamin contents are all reasonable — no alarming or unnecessary super-doses, just 70% of the daily value for vitamins B3, B6, B12, and B5. Vitamin B5, aka pantothenic acid, comes from the Latin word pantothen, meaning “widespread”. In short, this vitamin is in every food so it’s laughable to see it added to beverages in more than 100% of the Daily Value.
  • The sugar and fat content are also reasonable (amenable to most diets). The folks at Hiball are not fans of alternative sweeteners. They don’t use non-nutritive sweeteners like sucralose or Ace-K, but they don’t even use the natural alternative sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit. They stick to sugar. Granted, the sugar content is 25 grams, which might be too much for some people.

Who and What is This For?

Those wondering whether Hiball Energy coffee beverages are a good fit for them should focus on three main aspects: caffeine content, sweetness profile, and the energy drink :: coffee spectrum.

Caffeine Informer on HiBallCAFFEINE CONTENT.
The caffeine content is 120 milligrams per 8 ounce can. This is more caffeine than an 8 oz Red Bull or a short (8 oz) Vanilla Latte from Starbucks. Compared to other popular energy drink/coffee hybrids, Hiball Energy contains about the same caffeine per 8 oz serving as Rockstar Roasted (117 mg per 8 oz), but more caffeine than Java Monster (100 mg per 8 oz).  Of course, those energy drinks come in 16 oz cans, so the temptation to consume the whole container would give you more overall caffeine than one whole container of these Hiball Energy coffee products. (See Caffeine Informer caffeine database)

SWEETNESS PROFILE.
When selecting your energy beverage, you have to ask yourself if you would rather have lower overall sugar content with some alternative sweeteners, or no alternative sweeteners and more sugar. We all have our different diet goals so there is no wrong answer. Of course, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 10% of total energy from added sugars. As Bonnie Taub-Dix explains beautifully,

“The average caloric recommendation equals 2,000 calories (even though that’s more than many of us need). So 10 percent of 2,000 calories equals 200 calories. Then 200 calories of sugar equal 50 grams (gm) of sugar…”From “Cut Sugar and Meat and Eat Green, Says Government Panel” on Everyday Health

ENERGY DRINK :: COFFEE SPECTRUM.
The guarana – coffee combination is what makes these product energy drink/coffee hybrids; not completely one or the other, but appealing to fans of each. Walking this line is a brilliant idea because there are plenty of people who are more comfortable consuming caffeine from coffee than from energy drinks. Some of those people are afraid confused by what they’ve heard or read about energy drinks. There is no shortage of negative press regarding energy drinks, and while some products DO deserve the health warnings, some of them are far from the stereotype. The Hiball Energy coffee beverages are energy drinks in disguise, and perfect for those who prefer coffee to the stereotypical energy drink.

 ♦

Bottom Line

The mission of Hiball is very clear. In their words, from their own site,

The concept was to provide a naturally healthy, premium, clean energy drink without sacrificing taste. Hiball is now the pioneer of energy drinks for the health conscious consumer. After 3 packaging changes over the last 8 years, a full upgrade to organic / fair trade ingredients, and a few recent product line extensions, Hiball Energy is now the fastest growing natural / organic energy drink brand in the U.S. according to SPINS®. From “About Us” at http://hiballer.com/

If you’re looking for a potent-but-not-overpowering energy drink with a rich coffee flavor and a clean ingredient line, these three coffee beverages from Hiball Energy are great options. The caffeine content puts this at Level 3 of the 5 Levels of Fatigue. Though the sugar content may be too high for some people, the lack of any alternative sweeteners may be just what some consumers are looking for. With organic, fair-trade ingredients, these products are healthy options for normal coffee drinkers who are open to trying something a little different, a closer to an energy drink.

REFERENCES AND RELATED LINKS

Hiball Energy Home

Caffeine Informer on Hiball Energy coffee http://www.caffeineinformer.com/caffeine-content/hi-ball-coffee

Learn how Guarana is different from coffee, and what panax ginseng has to do with the movie Speed and the book Flowers for Algernon. Learn which B-vitamin can damage your nerves if over-ingested, and how to use the 5 Levels of Fatigue to find the perfect energy drink for your own needs and lifestyle.
The Energy Drink Guide — your one-stop reference for the common energy drink ingredients: what they are, where they come from, what they (are supposed to) do, and how much is too much. (available through iTunes, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and more)

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