Just in time for the summer heat, a cool and swirling phenomenon has finally reached South Tampa: a reinvented version of the frozen yogurt that grew popular in the 1980s. "Reinvented" because this time it's tart and tastes as much like yogurt as it does soft ice cream. Inspired by the wild success of Pinkberry, a frozen yogurt chain mostly in southern California and New York City, three local copycats have popped up within 2 miles of each other during the past year: Caliyogurt, Berryism and SunniBunni. This new yogurt, some say, is healthier. It contains active cultures, which are normally killed in the old heat-treated yogurt and that break down lactose in milk. (People who are lactose-intolerant can eat it without experiencing side effects, according to the National Yogurt Association.) The local shops offer a variety of toppings ranging from healthy — mango, strawberries and kiwi — to indulgent — M&Ms, gummy bears and chocolate chips.
City Times went on a quest to find out what the fuss was all about and whether this new frozen yogurt tasted any differently from place to place. Here is what we learned.
Tasters: Alessandra Da Pra and Elisabeth Dyer
BERRYISM, 701 S Dale Mabry
The owner: Simon Amar, 24.
The beginning: May 2008.
The product: The frozen yogurt is produced by a California-based company. It reaches the South Tampa store in powdered form, then is mixed with water, milk and other ingredients.
The flavors: original, green tea and wild berry.
What we had: two 5-ounce servings — original flavor with chopped kiwis and green tea with shredded coconut.
Observations: The green tea flavor was delicate, in contrast to the subtle tartness of the original flavor. Both had an icy texture that melted quickly on the tongue.
Why owner says it's the best: "We have a better location, better atmosphere, free Wi-Fi, more sittings," said Amar.
A plus: Store is a refreshing oasis for a snack on busy Dale Mabry
Quote: "(Frozen yogurt) is going to be the new hot trend in the dessert industry and I want to be part of it," said Amar.
CALIYOGURT, 2303 W Morrison Ave.
The owner: Phillip Park, 39.
The beginning: April 2007.
The product: Owner wouldn't give details, calling his "a secret recipe." (Yeah, right.)
The flavors: plain, green tea, and the flavor of the week (mango, peach, pink grapefruit or raspberry)
What we had: two 3-ounce kid-size servings — plain frozen yogurt with mango and raspberry frozen yogurt with walnuts.
Observations: The yogurt had a creamy, dense texture. The plain flavor was tangy; the raspberry was tart.
Why owner says it's the best: "My yogurt tastes better, period."
Best attribute: Cali's was only shop advertising a kid-size portion, which also came with a free topping.
Quote: "These days, frozen yogurt is trendy," Park said. "It's non-fat with low calories and it's healthy."
SUNNIBUNNI, 1413 S Howard Ave.
The owner: Alexandra Van Wie, 38.
The beginning: May 2008.
The product: Yogurt is made from a liquid base created by a company in Oregon.
The flavors: original, green tea.
What we had: two 5-ounce servings — original with strawberries and green tea with "bunni bites."
Observations: Texture was fluffy and light. The original flavor was tangy and bold; the green tea had a delicate taste.
Why owner says it's the best: "Mine is a liquid product," said Van Wie. "You don't want to drink powdered milk, you want to drink fresh liquid milk."
Best attribute: Unique toppings included Latin American mamey sapote (supposedly an aphrodisiac) and bunni bites, the owner's crumbled white chocolate and coconut cookies.
Quote: "I fell in love with the yogurt concept," said Van Wie. "I decided to do it on my own and to do it better."