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Specialty Sippin’ 

A roundup of the quirkiest coffee shop finds.

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Scott Elmquist

There's a lot of pretentiousness in the coffee world. Not unlike beer connoisseurs, self-proclaimed coffee snobs are often the first to tell you why a plain black cup of joe, or several shots of espresso, unadulterated by anything resembling creamer or sugar, is far superior to anything sweetened, frothed or blended.

And with the exceptional roasting happening in this city, it's easy to understand an appreciation for the naked bean. But there's plenty of room for creativity without destroying coffee's integrity, and that's where these drinks come in. Once we started looking, we discovered a seemingly endless list of inventive and enticing specials at shops around town. Here are a few of our favorites.

Thai Coffee
Sugar and Twine
2928 W. Cary St.
204-1755

At the cozy Sugar and Twine in Carytown, the croissants and lattes are particularly memorable. Though it is the Thai coffee, brimming with extra doses of caffeine and sugar, that brings more than the typical mug of joe ($3.25 for 16 ounces). Served iced or hot, the concoction is a standard red eye — that's drip coffee with a shot of espresso, in this case from Roastology — with sweet and condensed milk as the creamer. While the tradition of pouring sweet and condensed milk into coffee is largely attributed to the Thai origin and nothing new, Sugar and Twine's take combines two extremes. As you sip the milky smooth coffee, you just hope the espresso will get you through the sugar high and crash that is to come. Not for the faint of heart. Bonus for the experience: For those drinking and dining in, Sugar and Twine serves iced beverages in glass tumblers with sturdy paper straws and hot drinks in ceramic mugs.

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Root Beer Float Iced Latte
Plant Zero Cafe
7 E. Third St.
231-6500

Barista Bella Tattersall (pictured above) came up with this one, and nearly cried happy tears when asked for details about it. It's bizarre, she acknowledges, and the drink hasn't gotten much attention since it was added to the specials board a couple months ago. But frankly, it deserves some attention. A simple concoction of espresso, half and half, vanilla syrup and seltzer, it bears a striking resemblance to a root beer float. It's not quite as sweet as a float, though you can certainly request an adjustment to the sugar content, but the combination of creamy and fizzy creates that same frothiness that the classic dessert delivers. It's refreshing and indulgent, especially on a relentlessly muggy summer day that won't end.  

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Banana Bread Latte
Lift Coffee Shop and Cafe
218 W. Broad St.
344-5438

At Lift, which is home to a wide variety of panini and specialty sandwiches along with that boost of caffeine, the specials chalkboard currently features a banana bread latte ($4.35 for 16 ounces). Recommended by the barista to drink iced, this classic chai latte is flavored with a cream of banana syrup and topped with a healthy dusting of cinnamon. The result does indeed taste like banana bread, though each flavor in the profile is distinctive and recognizable. It's not often that a taste as divisive as banana is so palatable and natural tasting, though it fits right at home here. On a crisp fall morning, the hot version could give your typical chai latte some thoughtful competition.

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Iced Honey Breve
Sefton Coffee Co.
24 N. Eighth St.
343-2034

Sefton, a locally owned and locally roasted coffee joint downtown that is only open for business on weekdays, serves up a laundry list of creative coffee offerings. Among them: lavender mocha latte, espresso soda, blueberry white chocolate latte and honey spice latte. The iced honey breve is the ideal dessert, with a lift of espresso for that post-work slump. Served in one size, the classic breve — that's half and half with a shot of espresso — is given a honey finish that perfectly complements the notes of the espresso ($4.80 for 16 ounces, plus 30 cents for a plastic cup). My new go-to coffee sweetener might just be honey.

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Turmeric latte
Perk
2620 Buford Road
320-7375

Perk serves a tumeric latte named for the South Asian spice that permeates cultural eats and gives curry its color ($3.30 for 8 ounces). The spice is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Combined with added spices of ginger powder, black pepper, cayenne and nutmeg, it's almost savory, save for the recommended Perk sweetener: maple syrup. For the pumpkin spice latte aficionado who may feel unfulfilled come October, this one's for you. The eye-catching, mustard yellow color makes the latte pretty photo-worthy to boot.

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