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Please direct all media inquiries to Jim Yeager at breakwhitelight public relations.
By Oliver Strand
If coffee were a religion, Charles Babinski and Kyle Glanville would be two of its high priests.
Last year, when they opened G & B Coffee here in Grand Central Market, a 97-year-old food hall downtown, and Go Get Em Tiger in Larchmont Village, a neighborhood nearby, they made the doctrinaire decision to carry only whole milk and sugar for their drinks. If you want your coffee with a splash of skim milk or a packet of stevia, you are welcome to take your business elsewhere.
Which makes the iced almond-macadamia milk latte they serve seem almost blasphemous. Snicker if you must, but in the world of high-end coffee, lattes are for amateurs and soy or nut milks are for chumps: A shot of espresso should not be drowned in dairy, or worse, in milk derived from a plant.
But not only is the latte on the menu, it is exquisite: one of the best iced coffees in the United States, and almost certainly the best latte.
Fresh almond-macadamia milk, made in-house, is shaken over ice with espresso, then strained into a chilled Mason jar filled with ice from a Kold-Draft ice maker, an expensive machine you find in cocktail bars. The drink is so carefully formulated and fastidiously made that it tastes more like a cocktail-dessert hybrid than a coffee on ice.
This is a good era for iced coffee. Not long ago, it was either brewed coffee that sat in the refrigerator or a blender drink with the calorie count of a sundae. Today, a wave of creativity is surfacing at the cutting-edge shops, where coffee is labeled not just by the farm where it was grown but with the names of the farmers. The same barista who frowns on stirring sugar into an espresso because it masks the taste will gladly make you a shakerato, a shot of espresso and simple syrup shaken over ice, and then make another to sip behind the bar. If a monkish austerity has gripped the coffee vanguard in the last decade, then iced coffee season is Mardi Gras.
Some are inspired by the beer aisle (Stumptown Coffee Roasters sells its cold brew in the squat glass bottles known as “stubbies”), others by school lunch (Blue Bottle Coffee’s New Orleans-style coffee is packaged in small milk cartons).
Some draw on cocktail culture. In New York, the SoHo location of Everyman Espresso makes an espresso Old-Fashioned: espresso, tiki bitters and simple syrup shaken over ice and strained into a heavy glass. Madcap Coffee in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Washington, D.C., just introduced the espresso Moscow Mule, in which espresso and house-made ginger-lime syrup are stirred together and strained over ice, then topped with sparkling water.
Some look to the health food aisle. At Blacksmith in Houston, you can get a drinking yogurt that is made with milk steeped with coffee and then cultured for 12 hours.
But if coffee has a summer hit, the song you can’t get out of your head, it is the espresso milkshake. It’s nothing more than a shot or two of espresso blended with ice cream, but if the components are carefully chosen, the flavors will haunt you all season.
For the espresso milkshake at G & B Coffee and Go Get Em Tiger, Mr. Glanville sampled more than a dozen ice creams before choosing McConnell’s, a family-owned creamery in Santa Barbara, Calif. The drink, made with two double shots of espresso, a generous scoop of ice cream that weighs in at 300 grams (that’s more than a half-pound) and a dusting of espresso grounds, is a surprisingly elegant play of contrasting flavors. It’s also a lot of milkshake.
“We recommend this for two,” Mr. Glanville said.
Mr. Babinski added, “And most of the time, people have the whole thing to themselves.” But the recommendation is made, Mr. Glanville added, “ because we don’t want to feel responsible for making people fat and wired.”
The milkshake is just a refinement of a familiar favorite. The iced latte is a lot more work, an improvement on something that most people didn’t think needed reinventing. But the drink started off as a self-imposed challenge: rather than put something on the menu that they would never order themselves, Mr. Babinski, 29, and Mr. Glanville, 31, set out to create a version they actually would drink.
“We never wanted to feel like we had to do something just because customers wanted us to do it,” Mr. Glanville said. “That forced us to tackle it in a more culinary way, and design drinks that are delicious and interesting and unique to us.”
The espresso used in the drink changes often (sometimes in the middle of the day), and it comes from roasters with devoted followings among coffee fanatics: George Howell Coffee, Heart Coffee, 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters.
But it is the almond-macadamia milk that is the revelation. It’s so creamy and delicate that it makes the nut milks you pour out of a box taste like cheap extract. While commercial nut milks contain stabilizers or other additives, the almond macadamia milk at G & B Coffee and Go Get Em Tiger contains only water, almonds, macadamias and dates, which add a touch of sweetness. It’s Southern California in a glass: three regional ingredients, plus the filtered tap water brought in from hundreds of miles away (which may be the most Southern Californian thing of all).
There has been a nondairy option since G & B Coffee opened — this is Los Angeles, after all — but at first, the nut milk was just almonds and dates. Macadamias were added for what Mr. Babinski called a “neutral fattiness” that rounds out the milk. A new batch is made every day.
The iced almond-macadamia latte is just one of a number of innovative warm-weather drinks on the menu. The Dark and Stormy, a shot of espresso poured over handmade ginger beer, is new this season. As is the Business and Pleasure, which is actually a set of three small drinks: a shot of espresso, carbonated iced tea (which is actually black tea blended with water infused with citra hops; it tastes almost like an I.P.A.) and an iced almond-macadamia milk cappuccino. Other drinks are being developed; Mr. Babinski is tinkering with carbonating coffee for a float.
Mr. Babinski and Mr. Glanville met when they worked for Intelligentsia Coffee, known for its extensive portfolio of obscure, high-quality coffees. Mr. Babinski trained baristas in Chicago, where Intelligentsia is based; Mr. Glanville was a green-coffee buyer and an architect of the company’s expansion to Los Angeles.
Before they opened G & B last year, they ran a pop-up coffee bar inside Sqirl, a fashionable brunch counter in the Silver Lake neighborhood here that makes its own preserves: blueberry with tarragon, strawberry with rose. After years of working behind the scenes at Intelligentsia, the two found themselves at Sqirl spending time with customers.
“You stop thinking of what you do as solely being in service of the coffee, and start thinking about what’s exciting to people,” Mr. Babinski said.
“We talked about hijacking the Starbucks holiday menu and remaking it,” he said, “taking the names as the inspiration and building our own drinks around them.”
The drinks were available for one day only. They infused cream with mint bought at the farmers’ market for the peppermint mocha; they flavored a base with ginger, allspice, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg for the pumpkin spice latte. The eggnog latte was chilled and poured out of a growler.
It was popular, especially among coffee professionals. It was also liberating.
By the time they opened G & B, they felt free. Many coffee shops follow one of two templates: fast food (high volume, long lines, heavy branding), or the coffeehouse (mope rock, lumpy couches, laptops). G & B feels like a bar. It’s little more than a long counter where the cavernous food hall opens onto South Hill Street. You belly up, place your order, and drink where you stand.
On weekends, when the soul singer Charles Bradley or Michael Jackson is playing over the sound system, the crowd can be four deep. This changes the energy. Early one afternoon, a couple set their coffees on the bar and started making out.
Mr. Glanville wasn’t surprised. “They’re doing that because they’re in love,” he said with a shrug.
“Maybe they fell in love here,” Mr. Babinski added.
Iced almond macadamia milk lattes, milkshakes, very public displays of affection: Is there anything that’s off limits?
“Soy milk,” Mr. Glanville said. “Unless you’re buying awesome soy beans from some awesome dude, and making it yourself, soy has no place in a specialty coffee shop.”
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