How much artisanal juice can Greater Boston drink?
The question is gaining urgency as neighborhood after neighborhood falls to craft juice bars, and a once-unimaginable barrier — the $10 glass of juice — has been breached.
In the past six months, shops selling high-end juice have opened in Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Chinatown, Coolidge Corner, and Harvard Square. In Southie, two opened in June alone. Meanwhile, a juice mini-bus, Boston Projuice , is making the city rounds.
The Financial District is eagerly awaiting the summer opening of Kwench , and this fall, NYC-based Juice Press is slated to open in Chestnut Hill’s The Street, where it will share a habitat with Lululemon and other retailers who have evolved perfectly to serve a certain type of consumer.
Why this rapid onset of juice that’s cold-pressed, house-made, small-batch, organic, vegan, gluten-free, and raw? And why the belief that it’s all super healthy when, in a parallel universe populated by medical experts, orange juice has been branded the new soda?
The health value of straight fruit juice is open to interpretation.
“The simple answer is just eat the whole fruit,” said David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It’s going to be more nutritious and probably cheaper.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with the sugar in fruit, he said, but “the more whole fruit you eat the better off you are.”
Because processing fruit removes some or most of the fiber, the body absorbs the sugar more quickly. “The human gut is 25 feet long, and it’s designed to digest whole foods slowly.”
On the veggie side, the good news is that except for carrot juice, vegetable juices don’t have high concentrations of sugar, and do provide beneficial substances like polyphenols, which can calm inflammation and help keep gut bacteria in check, he said.
Health caveats aside, for many consumers, it seems, cold-pressed juice — with prices that rival wine, names like Tumeric Tonic and Sunrise, and ingredients that include dandelion, cayenne, and, of course, kale — is seen as more than a mere beverage. Maybe even a Gwyneth Paltrow-sanctioned way to show you care about yourself and the earth.
Revolution Juice declares it is out to “heal the world, one drink at a time.” Nourish Your Soul says “everyone needs to breathe a little more.” Liquiteria believes “balance and not extremism is the key to reaching your full potential.”
Louise Kramer, spokeswoman for the Specialty Food Association, says fresh juice plays into the country’s interest in food that’s healthy and whole — or at least has that aura.
“It’s an interesting moment in food,” she said, looking back to the post-World War II era, “when people didn’t seem to care where their food came from — you would just pop a TV dinner into the oven.”
Today, she said, people want a hand in the food they eat. “The neighborhood butcher is almost like a rock star. People are making homemade mayonnaise,” she said.
As for the price, in a time of pour-over coffee made with sustainably grown beans, even moderate earners have been trained to spend the equivalent of a minimum hourly wage on a single beverage.
As Kramer noted, people “want a feeling of authenticity.”
The authenticity vibe is enhanced by the generally green and airy juice bars themselves, and by the youthful juicer-istas, smiling as they pulverize pounds of romaine, apples, carrots, and shiso into a drink made just for you, or ring up a bottle of elixir that was cold-pressed out of sight.
Despite the juice bar spike in Boston, food-forward municipalities in California have been saturated since 2012, said Mary Chapman, a senior director of product innovation at Technomic, a Chicago-based research firm. “Does LA need another cold-pressed juice place?” she said. “Probably not.”
Running a cold-pressed juice operation, where the product is not pasteurized, is not easy.
“We worked with microbiologists in different areas of the country to ensure that we had sufficient safety measures in place during our production to eliminate contamination and potential illness,” Ashley Gleeson, cofounder of Beacon Hill’s Pressed, said in an e-mail.
No one has yet to push the trend to absurd extremes and juice bacon, but the fad has become fodder. In January, Jimmy Kimmel set up a fake up juice stand at an LA farmer’s market and convinced people to try “organic” concoctions that were really made out of Fun Dip and Tang.
In June, The New Yorker ran a “Juice Contract,” that stipulated, “Under no circumstances is the Juicee to complain about or negatively refer to the cost of the Juice. It is agreed upon by both the Juicee and Juice Your Own Adventure that $10.95 is a reasonable amount of money to pay for what is effectively tepid soup.”
All joking aside, Paul Cunningham, a former personal trainer turned juice mini-bus co-owner, said he sincerely wants make the city healthier. “I honestly do think I can make a difference,” he said.
The notion of juice-as-virtue resonated with Andy Marx, who had just enjoyed a $10 beet juice from Pressed. He likened dropping that kind of money on a beverage to investing $100 in yoga pants from Lululemon, where he works as a manager.
“You are committing to being someone,” he said — a healthy someone in the case of the juice, an athletic one in the case of the pants.
Buying juice from Pressed makes him feel like part of the “community,” Marx said. “Money is not just money.”
A few miles away, outside Pure Cold Press in Brookline, where she’d just cheerfully spent more than $10 on an OJ and grapefruit mix, Rachel Newby, a waiter, sought to explain the appeal.
She mentioned a few things — it’s fresh, there’s no added sugar — and then decided : “It’s kind of hard to explain.”