Cafes are reinventing the conventional cup of joe with unique flavor profiles and considered presentations.

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Felix Roasting Co deconstructed espresso tonic. Image courtesy of Special Sauce.

Coffee connoisseurship is on the rise. As of 2017, a whopping 59% of all coffee consumed in the US was considered ‘specialty’ according to the National Coffee Association. This represents a significant shift in sipping habits; daily drinkers of gourmet coffee have more than quadrupled over the past twenty years, growing from only 9% in 1999 to 41% in 2017. Local cafes and national suppliers alike have been tapping into this growing culture, offering education and in-depth bean sourcing information, specialized brewing methods like pour overs and nitro cold brew and unexpected flavors like turmeric and lavender lattes.

Now, as the flourishing coffee culture – and corresponding demand for a unique drinking experience – sees coffee loyalists more willing to take risks, cafes are elevating the classic cup of joe into highly stylized, cocktail-like libations.

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Felix Roasting Co hickory smoked s'mores latte. Image courtesy of Special Sauce.
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Felix Roasting Co deconstructed espresso tonic. Image courtesy of Special Sauce.

Felix Roasting Co, which opened in New York City in September 2018, approaches coffee with a mixologist’s eye. The cafe serves a deconstructed espresso tonic and a hickory-smoked s’mores latte presented with the showmanship of a craft cocktail. The latte features graham-cracker infused milk, a house-made salted caramel marshmallow and is smoked with hickory wood chips under a bell jar, releasing a waft of sweet woodsmoke when served. Customers are “meant to have a little bit of an a-ha moment” when enjoying Felix Roasting Co’s creations, explained Ken Fulk, who designed the café’s interior. “Even if you’re here to grab your coffee and leave, you’re having an experience that’s unlike anywhere else.”

Starbucks has opened a line of luxe experiential cafes called Starbucks Reserve, with an attention to coffee sourcing, technique and flavors. The fourth and newest location opened in New York City in December 2018 and includes an “experience bar” offering drinks like whiskey barrel-aged cold brew, sparkling citrus espresso, nitro hopped apricot cold brew and nitro cold brew with peppercorn foam and beef jerky. The new endeavor from the coffee giant aims to “weave the skill of bartender and barista into a single art,” Starbucks explains, exploring “coffee as an art form—brewing, aging, infusing and blending it into imaginative and often surprising creations.”

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Starbucks Reserve Roastery sparkling citrus espresso
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Starbucks Reserve Roastery nitro cascara cloud

At the Starbucks Reserve Milan location, which opened in September 2018, cocktail classics are reinterpreted with a base of cold brew in place of alcohol. Cold brew is seasoned with bitters and finished with a cherry for a spirit-free take on the Manhattan, shaken with maple syrup and fresh lemon for a non-alcoholic sour, and infused with ginger ale and burnt cinnamon syrup for a mule mocktail.

“Opening a bar with beautiful wine and drinks is one thing, but we’re taking what we know best, coffee and tea, and using that to elevate everything,” said Liz Muller, chief design officer of Starbucks. “The unique drinks, the glassware – it will be an experience to open your palette and your mind to new tastes and combinations.”

With these new beverage formats comes a novel approach to the stodgy caffeine workhorse of yore, inviting patrons to linger over and delight in their morning coffee as they would an evening cocktail.

Main image of Felix Roasting Co’s hickory smoked latte courtesy of Special Sauce.