Up Your Espresso Game 
with Nut Milks, Herbs, Tahini and More

Nadine Nelson

While rainbow-hued whipped cream can make espresso drinks stand out, there are better ways to give your lattes lift-off (and none of them involve a unicorn). Just ask coffee “mixologist” Cenk Duman of Oromo Cafe in Chicago, where the lattes run the gamut from hazelnut horchata to a Turkish delight-inspired pistachio and rose made with housemade pistachio milk, rose syrup and espresso ($7.95, recipe). “The richness of organic pistachio milk balanced out with a sweet touch of organic rose syrup and strong espresso turned out to be a great combination,” says Duman. 

Turkish delight also serves as the flavor inspiration behind the pistachio rosewater latte at Sift Bake Shop in Mystic, Conn., but owners Ebbie and Adam Young incorporate white chocolate for added texture to the ganache base of cream, Sicilian pistachio paste, sea salt and rosewater. “The white chocolate creates a rich and decadent mouthfeel,” says Ebbie, “and the pistachio and rosewater [are] both very delicate yet opposing flavors that balance each other out.” Espresso and steamed milk are added to the ganache, while toasted pistachios and rose petals are sprinkled over the top (recipe). 

At The Daily in Charleston, the Middle Eastern-inspired lattes are spiked with tahini for a nutty flavor. “It’s our way of combining all the things we love: espresso, chocolate and rich, creamy tahini. The flavors are complementary, and the result is like a dream in a glass,” says co-owner Melody Shemtov of the sesame seed-topped iced tahini mocha ($4.50, recipe). 

It’s not Middle Eastern traditions but Chinese and Indian medicine that inspire the lattes and chai-based drinks at West Coast-based Café Gratitude. Consulting chef Jasmine Jacobson likes to incorporate healthful ingredients like dried mushrooms and adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha, rhodiola, ginseng, maca and eleuthero, which are said to help cope with stress, promote restorative sleep and increase energy, mental focus and clarity. 

“I see lattes becoming more functional,” Jacobson says. “For decades, people consumed coffee without concern of the side effects, which can drain your adrenal glands and cause sleep issues. Herbal lattes, or even adding herbs or mushrooms to lattes, balance you out and can improve your mood.” The “I Am Charmed” chaga mushroom chai features a chai tea mix made with equal parts clove, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, pink salt and black tea leaves, plus a mushroom elixir mix Jacobson purchases (recipe).

At Cafe Kubal in Syracuse, N.Y., owner Matt Godard prefers the medicinal properties of rosemary (said to do everything from soothe stomachs to boost memory) in the iced rosemary latte created by one of his baristas. “Rosemary is abundant in Syracuse in summer, so it was put on as a special,” says Godard. “Customers were so enamored with it, it’s become a year-round staple.” 

Nadine Nelson could dine on Jamaican jerk lobster and oxtail all day long.

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