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Washington's secret weapon is a beloved Gen Z energy drink with more caffeine than God

Lauren Vespoli   

Washington's secret weapon is a beloved Gen Z energy drink with more caffeine than God
  • Celsius, the suddenly-ubiquitous energy drink, is a favorite of Gen Z — and Capitol Hill.
  • It has twice as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, which is pretty much all you need to know about its appeal.

When Washington, D.C. lobbyist Matthew Hoekstra wants to have a quick meeting with a Congressional staffer, he heads for a special spot in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building, a sprawling complex on the Hill.

"I love to take meetings in front of the Celsius vending machine," he told Business Insider. "I'll recognize people who go there every day."

You read that right. Celsius — the suddenly-ubiquitous energy drink that comes in flavors like "Kiwi Guava" and "Arctic Vibe" and is fervently beloved by Gen Z — is fueling Capitol Hill lobbyists, staffers, the press corps, and even some members of Congress.

"It's everywhere," said Brent Robertson, chief-of-staff for Republican Kansas Senator Roger Marshall and self-identified "afternoon Celli man."

According to Axios reporter Victoria Knight, who covers health policy from the Hill, "many of our discussions while we're standing around in the hallway or sitting in the press gallery revolve around when we should get our Celsius for the day." Knight said she's noticed many staffers and Congressional members partaking.

"Congress would probably go into a government shutdown without Celsius," she added.

Over the last three years, the slender white cans — fancifully emblazoned with various fruits, despite containing no juice — have taken over college campuses, corner stores, and gyms. Though the drink first hit the market in 2005, it struggled to gain a foothold until a vitamin entrepreneur pumped millions into marketing and advertising. Now, thanks in large part to a 2022 distribution deal with PepsiCo, as well as overall growth in the energy drink market since the pandemic, Celsius's valuation has skyrocketed to $13.4 billion, up from $280 million in 2018.

It's easy to see the appeal. The original 12 oz can clocks in at 200 milligrams of caffeine, about double that of a cup of coffee and a little more than a standard 16 oz can of Monster. It goes down easy, with a synthetic, vaguely fruity taste that's more reminiscent of a Propel Water than a Red Bull.

"Celli" fans on the Hill see the drink as a cleaner way to optimize their caffeine intake. "It's a way better alternative to coffee, honestly," Robertson told Business Insider. "It doesn't stain your teeth, and is less expensive with twice the punch."

Hoekstra — who loves Celsius so much he even dressed up as the drink for Halloween, complete with a necklace made out of old cans — views it as an antidote to the unhealthy lobbyist lifestyle.

"Everyone's glued to their phones, and even if you're disciplined, you go to lunches and dinners where you're eating bread and steak and drinking," he said. Unlike other sugary energy drinks, with Celsius, "there are some health aspects, including the metabolism boost." (Speculation has swirled on social media about the drink containing everything from Ozempic to methamphetamine.)

Florida representative Anna Paulina Luna, a member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, told Business Insider she was drawn to Celsius's advertised health benefits during her 2022 campaign. "I needed to get my daily dose of vitamins while door knocking," she said. Now, she "usually has one a day unless we're in late-night votes, in which case I usually have two."

Eric Garcia, the Washington bureau chief for The Independent, decided to try Celsius because it seemed like "a decent replacement" for his Coca-Cola addiction. He started drinking it "somewhere between the debt limit fight and the Speaker dumpster fire because I saw my fellow Hill reporters drinking it," he said. (He mentioned the drink several times in a report about the Republican House Speaker fight in October.)

Over the last six months, Celsius-only vending machines have popped up on the Hill, which is in line with the company's recent focus on food service distribution. The machines have appeared in Rayburn, the basement of the Cannon House Office Building, and even the basement of the House of Representatives. Celsius is also available at dining facilities like the Capitol Refectory and the Dirksen Senate Office building cafeteria.

It seems Celsius has become enough of a phenomenon on the Hill that, in the frantic November week before the passage of the latest stopgap funding bill, a shortage prompted worried tweets from staffers and press, and even a mention in POLITICO's Huddle newsletter.

You wouldn't know that by talking to official channels, however. When reached by email with questions about Celsius-specific vending machines, the House of Representatives Chief Administrative Officer, which manages the House's day-to-day operations, offered a curt "no comment."

To Duane Stanford, editor and publisher of the trade publication Beverage Digest, the popularity is obvious.

"Capitol Hill is full of young, energetic career-oriented people who by and large care about fitness," he told Business Insider. "It used to be that the big driver of energy drinks was blue-collar workers who really needed the energy to keep pushing through what they were doing. Now, it's much more acceptable in white collar fields to use these kinds of drinks." Stanford said these young workers are part of a new consumer group that's helping drive the overall growth of the energy drink market.

Celsius, with its emphasis on a blend of seven vitamins and claims that it can "accelerate metabolism," uses its branding to communicate that "it can help you have a better life," Stanford said.

"I feel like D.C. culture has really contributed to it, because these staffers and reporters have incredibly intense jobs," Hoekstra said. "It helps you manage your professional schedule."

The company itself emphasized this point in a statement to Business Insider. "Not only is Celsius used by athletes preparing for competition, for fueling workouts, and celebrating life's best moments, Celsius also plays an important role in providing our nation's lawmakers with Essential Energy to carry out critical work for our nation."

Garcia sees a clear connection between recent Congressional chaos and Celsius's rising popularity. "I think more than anything, given the long hours covering Congress… you need something to stay awake," he said. "In a perfect world, if House Republicans could find a speaker or pass a spending bill on time, we wouldn't need to rely on Celsius."

In the last few weeks of this year's session, perhaps Congress would be wise to heed the mantra emblazoned on the Celsius vending machine in the House basement: "Don't wish for it, work for it."