Chicago company creates exotic syrups for icy treats

July 6, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Melissa Yen used to own a small cafe in Logan Square. The cafe didn't last, but her love of all-natural, flavored syrups did. She's turned that love into a small business, bottling them up and selling them at markets and specialty stores all over town.

The Logan Square Farmer's Market has seen a dramatic increase in the number of vendors this year. One of those small businesses is Jo Snow Syrups. In the summertime at least, when temperatures rise, Melissa Yen and her team are busy hand-cranking shaved ice, then topping it with her unique, homemade, all-natural syrups.

"When I was researching how I am going to do these snow cones, I still call them snow cones but it is actually shaved ice. It just the ice shaver gives it a nicer texture, just light and feathery and I don't like the other kind either," said Yen.

From a rented kitchen in Oak Park, Yen creates her delicious syrups from scratch, just like any chef would. This time of year, it's strawberry season, so Yen decides to combine them with cinnamon; she first pours honey into a giant pot with a bit of water, stirring to dissolve it. She then adds the fresh strawberries and cinnamon, and finally, pure cane sugar in about equal proportion to the liquid, which creates the simple syrup. The pot is moved to the stove, then gently heated for about 30 minutes. Yen checks the temperature constantly, and when the ingredients start bubbling, she removes the pot, drains the fruit into a giant strainer, and the result is a flavored syrup unmatched in Chicago for its sweet, refreshing complexity.

"I start with cultural references and then sort of mix it up. So, just I tend towards exotic ingredients really. Just balancing it with a round flavor, with a tart flavor, with a sharp flavor, with an herbal flavor," she said.

The snow cones are an obvious usage for her syrup. She shaves ice with the aid of a Japanese machine that transforms hard blocks into soft snow, then floods it with syrup. Bao Bing is a Taiwanese treat, featuring that flavored snow, plus beans and flavored Jello. She'll even make her own carbonated water, then add a bit of syrup to it for an all-natural soda. Yen says her new gig is a lot of work, but still, pretty fun.

"I'm making simple syrup, sugar syrup, it''s gotta be fun," Yen said.

Jo Snow Syrups sold at:

Southport Grocery and Cafe
3552 N Southport

Marion Street Cheese Market
100 S. Marion Street, Oak Park

Green Grocer
1402 W. Grand Ave

Moveable Feast
321 Franklin St, Geneva

Provenance Food and Wine
2528 N. California
2312 W. Leland

Chicago's Downtown
Farm Stand
66 E. Randolph St.

Coffee & Tea Exchange
3311 N. Broadway

The Boston Shaker
69 Holland St
Sommerville, MA

Lush Wine & Spirits
1412 W. Chicago Ave.
2232 W. Roscoe

Also found at local farmer's markets:

Lincoln Square Farmers Market Thursday 3:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Logan Square Farmers Market - Sunday 10:00 am - 2:00 pm
Andersonville Farmers Market - Wednesday 3:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Select dates- 6/29, 7/20, 8/10, 8/31, 9/21, 10/12
Or check out their website at:

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