The self-proclaimed coffee workshop inside the Milwaukee Art Museum aims to flip the coffee cocktail concept on its head.
BY VASILEIA FANARIOTI
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Discourse Coffee
Imagine walking up to an employee at your local art museum’s café, and instead of asking for a drip coffee, you order a “Moonwater.“ This is just one of the many creative drinks you’ll find at Discourse Coffee, a new Milwaukee-based “coffee workshop” that’s shaking up its city’s art museum with savory coffee cocktails inspired by the works within it.
And please note that the word “workshop“ is not a misnomer—this is a place where experimentation is taken quite literally, and a deep understanding of coffee and flavor science helps create unique drinks for art lovers in Milwaukee.
Discourse Coffee x the Milwaukee Art Museum
Robert Stein, deputy director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, reached out to Discourse with the idea of collaborating on a project that would create a more engaging and supportive community venue in the Milwaukee area. This partnership culminated in the opening of the Discourse Coffee pop-up at the Milwaukee Art Museum earlier this year.
The menu features drinks inspired by works in the museum’s collection, with each drink created to represent the story, flavor, texture, and aroma of the work that inspired it. Some upcoming drinks in the works include one inspired by the sculpture Typewriter Eraser, while another will be modeled after a self portrait by Andien de Clermont.
We sat down with the team behind Discourse Coffee—Ryan Castelaz, founder and creative director; Olivia Molter, director of design; and Sean Liu, director of operations—to learn more about their project.
From Sister Bay to Milwaukee
Discourse started out as a coffee workshop in Sister Bay, Wis., the brainchild of Ryan and a former colleague. After Ryan moved to Milwaukee, COVID-19 hit, so he—inspired by the desire to learn more about how different flavors work together—got a part-time job as a flavor scientist at Kerry Flavor & Ingredients. “I work primarily in the hard seltzer and canned cocktail space, focusing on innovation in the alcohol space,” he explains. “Most of my work here involves challenging the public palette by combining readily acceptable mainstream flavors like peach, berry, or mango with emerging and up-and-coming flavors like candied pecan, balsamic, and ghost chili.”
At the same time he started doing Discourse pop-ups in different locations throughout the city. It was during one of these pop-ups that Olivia offered to help him manage the long queue by jumping behind the bar.
Today, Olivia manages all things design and online presence for Discourse, from social media and the look of the website, to the packaging and branding. “My aim was to find the balance between really approachable, friendly, funny, goofy and casual, but also delicious and high end, because all these elements exist within Discourse,” she says.
Discourse Coffee: A Menu Full of Surprises
With Olivia and Sean on board, the team finally found a place that felt like home in the Crossroads Collective food hall in Milwaukee’s Lower East Side.
The imaginative coffee and tea drinks at the Discourse Coffee workshop are meant to translate a story or an emotion. The spirit of innovation and change is reflected in their constantly-changing menu, dependent upon the seasonality of ingredients.
To give you an idea, the “Odd Duck” is a drink made with sous-vide coffee (a chef-y experiment that involves brewing coffee in vacuum-sealed bags at different temperatures), along with dried candy-cap mushrooms, fenugreek seeds, sweet soy sauce, maple, black garlic coconut cream, Odd Duck bitters blend, activated charcoal, passionfruit powder, tonka bean and oat milk.
We have never heard of anyone else brewing their coffee using the sous-vide method, let alone using soy sauce in a coffee drink! And yet it works beautifully because the team at Discourse has a deep understanding of how different flavors work together.
Providing a High-Quality Beverage at a Fast-Paced Rate
But how is all this feasible in a fast-paced environment? That’s where Sean comes in. “My focus is on how we can make our signature drinks quickly, without sacrificing quality or flavor,” says Sean. “There have been ways where we were able to consolidate the steps of making a drink without taking anything away from the experience.”
The team has a few projects coming up, including offering consultation services and publishing a recipe and methodologies book, which will help other baristas bring deeper layers of creativity and sustainability into their drink making.
You can visit Discourse Coffee at Milwaukee’s Crossroads Collective, or at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work. You can follow her adventures at thewanderingbean.net.