The Five Things You Need to Craft a Perfect Signature Drink

Tips, tricks, and surefire ways to incorporate signature drinks into your menu that your baristas will enjoy making and your customers will order again and again!


Photos courtesy of Barista Pro Shop

Elaborate coffee orders still remind me of that scene from You’ve Got Mail. Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) observes that an indecisive person must make several choices to order a specialty coffee: “Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the heck they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”

The line makes me laugh because it rings true for me. Even though the “big picture” of my life looks a little hazy, I definitely have a “usual” order at my favorite coffee shop: Almond milk. Honey. Cinnamon. Cappuccino. If anything, it goes to show that we place orders to satiate more than just hunger or thirst—we crave something unique.

Choosing a coffee drink, especially on an unfamiliar menu, can be overwhelming for new guests. So its important to create drinks thoughtfully. Above is the Frutti di Bosco.

That said, I know I don’t necessarily want to assert my individuality with six decisions every time I order a coffee—who hasn’t stared blankly at a menu overwhelmed by its breadth? A distinct signature menu option can satisfy that desire for the one-of-a-kind while simplifying the selection process. In fact, my standard cappuccino order began as a signature beverage suggested by a barista. Special menu items offer customers the chance to try something new that they might not consider otherwise or might not be able to find elsewhere. Plus, signature recipes can streamline service and product purchasing for shops by allowing baristas to spend less time on cup-by-cup customization and by helping managers better anticipate what products and quantities they will need. 

When we began crafting signature recipes at Barista Pro Shop two years ago for our Lively Libations blog series, we didn’t have an exact agenda—really it began as an excuse to take “pretty pictures” of floral lemonades. However, since then, we’ve realized the campaign’s ability to address a customer’s desire for specificity and a shop’s need for efficiency. It has grown into a means to connect with the coffee shops that we serve all over the country as we experiment with new products and flavor combinations. We have so enjoyed seeing our ideas and recipes on customer menus and likewise; we love being inspired by the specialty-coffee community while we imagine our recipes.

Crafting great signature drinks isnt just about making something delicious—its also about creating a drink that is easy to make and maximizes efficiency in your space. Above is the Matcha Made In Heaven.

Through collaboration with friends in the industry and by our own trial and error, we’ve picked up a few tricks along the way that we want to share. We hope you enjoy our recipe-creation hacks!

How to Create Memorable Recipes

Something Familiar, Something New

Customers like surprises … but within reason. An element of familiarity makes a new menu option more approachable by giving patrons a frame of reference—whether that’s a clearer idea of what the drink will taste like or a fun connection to pop culture.

  • Craft recipes that replicate the flavor profile of something recognizable. Try re-creating candies, desserts, confections, cocktails or other well-known recipes.
  • Design drinks around a theme. For example, try flavors inspired by movies, music or celebrities. For example, a Fool’s Gold Latte (inspired by Elvis’ favorite peanut butter, jelly, and bacon sandwich) might be a hit in Nashville. or a Pumpkin Butter Beer could be perfect for Halloween (or really anytime … #always).
  • Create drinks around an ingredient or beverage type. How many mochas is to too many mochas? What a silly question! Create a line of signature mochas for the holiday season.

Stay Current

In this era of instant updates and a rapidly changing market, nobody wants to be passé. Customers’ interests and taste change daily—stay up to speed to keep them coming back.

  • Make drinks with upcoming events or the season in mind. With Thanksgiving on the horizon, a line of pie-themed lattes (pumpkin, pecan, apple, or cherry) could be deliciously festive, or a special Black Friday Charcoal Mocha could entice those eager shoppers!
  • Be aware of trending flavors. Check out in-demand tastes like matcha, turmeric, floral flavors, cascara, and cold brew. You definitely don’t have to jump on every bandwagon, but popular flavors may be worth considering. Adventurous customers are often surprised and delighted by new sensations—especially if they can post it out on social media!
It can be daunting to create a signature drink, but look no further than social media! You can usually get a good sense of flavors and ideas folks are into based on that. This photo features the Peachy Keen Iced Tea.

Get the Team on Board

As the face of the business, the barista behind the bar can make all the difference when it comes to educating customers about your menu. Make sure your baristas are informed and involved.

  • Encourage staff to be creative. The chance to contribute ideas and recipes helps staff feel invested in the menu and much more likely to promote it.
  • Make sure your staff likes the new featured recipes. If the consensus is poor after everyone has tried the drinks, your baristas will probably feel uncomfortable endorsing or up-selling the new items.
  • Ensure that all staff members know how to make the new beverages. Avoid unnecessary dissatisfaction by making sure that customers receive the same beverage no matter who makes it.
Seasonality is also important. Your customers wont want to drink a hot cider drink in July, but they might like the Pear Crumble during autumn.

Consider Your Customers

You may think up something brilliant, but if customers aren’t interested, then it won’t affect the bottom line.

  • Think about what your customers already order and generate more recipes like your top-selling drinks. Do you cater to a clientele that prefers clean, low-sugar, or no-sugar profiles? Then mix drinks with products that reflect those preferences, perhaps with herbs or spices. Do you sell coffee along with confections and other sweets? Then sprinkle some more glitter on that mythical-creature rainbow frappe.
  • Take a poll. Use your tip jars, Instagram story, or comments box to ask customers what new and delicious drink they would like to see on your menu board. You could even tie in a giveaway or new item unveiling to generate more interest in the menu addition.
No matter what, feel free to explore and experiment. You never know what tastes will taste good together until you try! Above is the Yerba Mocha.

Unleash Your Inner Mixologist!

In the wise words of our Cafe Consultant Tia Peck, “If you aren’t making a mess, you aren’t doing it right.” That’s not license to be a slob, but rather a reminder that it’s all right to make mistakes when trying something new. New products and unfamiliar recipes can be intimidating if you put too much pressure on yourself. It’s uncharted territory—you don’t know what you don’t know, so how can you expect yourself to figure it out perfectly on the first try? Give yourself the freedom to make something truly terrible. Then, start over and make it better. Who knows, you might have an unexpected happy accident!

  • Build on what you know. Make small adjustments to a recipe that is already tried and true. A few small tweaks to a classic can yield a surprisingly unique result! Many innovations start as small modifications.
  • Swish and spit. Taste the brew, then spit it out during experimentation. I know this sounds like blasphemy, but there is such a thing as too much espresso and sugar. Don’t give yourself the shakes by accidentally drinking 10 shots while honing the recipe.
  • Add a little bit at a time. You can always add more syrup, cocoa, or milk … but you can’t take it back if you go overboard. Conservative additions while experimenting can save time and product.
  • Mix ingredients proportionally. For example, if you want to add multiple syrups or sugary ingredients, add less of each to avoid a sugar overload. To turn a hazelnut latte (typically made with three pumps of syrup) into a vanilla Irish cream hazelnut latte, don’t just add a pump of each new flavor to the cup (that would be five pumps of syrup in one cup). Make the vanilla Irish cream hazelnut latte with one pump of each flavor (three pumps of syrup total). Balancing the flavors helps keep the calorie count down and prevents the customer from drinking straight syrup.

For more on adding signature drinks to your café’s menu, check out the feature In Season in the October + November 2018 issue of Barista Magazine.

Dana Schlingman is a marketing representative for Barista Pro Shop. Specializing in promotion, she develops content for ads, blog posts, and social media. This includes managing and photographing Barista Pro Shop’s monthly Lively Libations recipe campaign. With her degree in fine art and her adventures in the coffee industry (travels to coffee farms in Peru and time spent working as a barista in a remote Alaskan town), she brings a creative eye and fresh perspective to BPS.

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