We discover how the cereal milk beverage trend found its way into coffee competition and café menus across America.
BY MIRANDA HANEY
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo courtesy of Miranda Haney
Yesterday, we began exploring how cereal eventually found a new place for itself in the food world through the cult-famous cereal milk by baker Christina Tosi. Today, we finish up this story by (heavily) investigating its descent into specialty-coffee competitions and café menus.
I first saw a cereal milk coffee drink at Fleet Coffee in Austin, Texas. After cutting their teeth in the world of specialty coffee for nearly a decade, co-founders Patrick Pierce and Loren Perkins (now of Try Hard Coffee) opened Fleet in 2016. The Morning Ritual, an infused cortado served with a cookie garnish (or Fruity Pebbles treat, depending on the season), has been on the menu at Fleet since day one. Loren cited Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi as a major influence for the beverage, but they also threw a new name into the ring: Jay Caragay.
Jay Caragay is the owner of Spro Coffee, the first U.S. AeroPress Champion, and a previous contributor to Barista Magazine. While Milk Bar was taking off in New York, Jay was attempting to replicate a brown bread ice cream he’d tasted on a trip to Los Angeles using Grape Nuts cereal. A little over a month later, in March 2009, he published another post describing the moment he found out cereal milk ice cream already existed.
“I’m mad at myself. For my lack of vision,” he wrote. “For my inability to see what’s been staring us in the face for the past 35 years.”
Fortunately, Jay wasn’t completely discouraged. He pivoted by pairing cereal milk with coffee—perhaps for the first time ever.
With the help of 2004 U.S. Barista Champion Bronwen Serna, Jay landed on a solid recipe for a Fruity Pebbles Cappuccino and served it to the open service crowd at the 2009 U.S. Barista Championship in Portland, Ore. The drink was a success, so Jay offered it on the specials menu at Spro in Baltimore, and the rest is history. Or is it?
Across the pond, a little-known coffee nerd was a step ahead of the curve. Before Jay Caragay and Christina Tosi, James Hoffmann was experimenting with infusing milk with breakfast foods, specifically glazed donuts. He debuted the Liquid Donut at the 2007 U.K. Barista Championships and went on to claim first place at the World Barista Championship in Tokyo.
I have spent far too long researching this subject. I have talked to numerous coffee professionals with years and years of memories. I have traced down old web pages, clicking link upon 404-ed link. All of this digging led me straight into the arms of the world’s most popular coffee YouTuber. The wise and mysterious cereal milk sage I’ve been searching for was right in front of me the whole time. James Hoffmann, I believe, was the first person to infuse milk with breakfast food and use it in a coffee beverage.
The Why and the Comeback
While it may seem like a classic case of the collective unconscious, it’s no coincidence that culinary professionals turned to nostalgia in 2007-2008. The world was at the height of the global financial crisis, and we often look to familiar foods for comfort in hard times.
Perhaps that’s also why cereal milk lattes made a huge comeback in 2020-2021. Faced with an uncomfortable present and an uncertain future, we relied on the childlike playfulness of the flavors of the past to bring us joy.
Ready to Try It for Yourself?
Onyx Coffee Lab currently features the Cereal Killer on their seasonal menu. The Mini Bar offers a steady rotation of cereal milk lattes that pair perfectly with their homemade donuts in Jacksonville, Fla. There’s a Cinnamon Toast Crunch version at Chitchat in Los Angeles, one with Lucky Charms at Made in KC in Kansas City, Mo., and another with Fruit Loops at Cirque Coffee in Tulsa, Okla. In Austin, you’ll find versions at Stay While Coffee, Revival Coffee, Daisy Coffee Co., Greater Goods, and Fleet. To make the drink at home, simply soak your favorite breakfast cereal in your milk of choice for 20-ish minutes, strain the soggy flakes, and use the leftovers to make whatever coffee drink your heart desires. Sit back, take a sip, and reminisce about simpler times.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Miranda Haney (she/her) is a coffee educator, freelance writer, and musician based in Austin, Texas. She’s currently working as the head trainer and events coordinator for Greater Goods Coffee. Miranda was a contestant on The Barista League: Online Season 2 and a competitor at the 2019 U.S. Barista Championship in Costa Mesa, Calif. When she’s not doing coffee things, she’s probably running a marathon (or something crazy like that).