Big Softie. Photo courtesy of Portrait Coffee Roasters
A few years ago, nitro cold brew was all the rage and keto followers were buzzing about butter coffee. While many coffee shops and cafés still offer those drinks, the unusual circumstances surrounding this year have ushered in a new crop of trends. Fresh Cup caught up with several operators to find out what they’re serving up this fall, and beyond.
A few years ago, nitro cold brew was all the rage and keto followers were buzzing about butter coffee. While many coffee shops and cafés still offer those drinks, the unusual circumstances surrounding this year have ushered in a new crop of trends.
As operators seek ways to reach customers amid shelter-in-place orders and fears of spreading coronavirus, many have turned to options like curbside and contactless pickup, grab-and-go options, and bags of whole coffee beans to adapt. At the same time, customers are dealing with uncertainty and spending more time at home, with many craving comforting tastes and smells.
Fresh Cup caught up with several operators to find out what they’re serving up this fall, and beyond.
Beaver Dam, Wisconsin
Connie and Josiah Vilmin began roasting coffee in 2004, and added a bakery and café at the beginning of 2018. Connie handles the bakery side, developing the recipes for their popular scones in flavors like cranberry pistachio, maple oat, white chocolate raspberry, and blueberry.
They’d set up a website pre-pandemic, but the need to connect with customers in new ways this spring accelerated their move online.
“COVID pushed us in a direction maybe sooner than we were thinking, of finding creative ways to offer [our products],” says Josiah.
The pandemic inspired many people to start baking at home, but not everyone wants to bake from scratch, so that provided an opportunity for the Vilmins. In May, they began selling take-and-bake scones for pickup.
“The scones are made from scratch and flash frozen here,” explains Josiah. “You can take them to your oven and bake them to your specs when you want them.” Their most popular scone flavors are blueberry and white chocolate raspberry, so those two are available for take-and-bake. “As nice as it is to have them baked perfectly in our store, sometimes it’s cool to have them at your convenience at home,” he says.
The take-and-bake scones proved popular for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other events this year. Even as businesses reopen, Josiah anticipates continuing to offer take-and-bake scones with the addition of seasonal flavors like caramel apple and toffee pecan.
“I see us adding to it with some of our bakery items as we continue,” he says.
In addition to the popularity of its take-and-bake scones, the business has also seen an uptick in sales of whole beans so customers can make their coffee at home. Each summer, they offer a cold brew cola.
“We’ll have it for a few weeks and then it’ll go away,” says Josiah. “We use our wild coffee for that cold brew with a cola-flavored syrup and carbonated water. It’s like drinking a coffee Coke.”
With the slogan of “pouring a new narrative,” Portrait is a socially conscious coffee brand committed to increasing representation of African Americans in the specialty coffee industry.
Before cofounding Portrait, Erin Fender worked in a candle shop, so she was familiar with the candle-making process and thought soy candles would be a good extension of the Portrait brand.
“How can we express ourselves through different senses?” she wondered.
It started with Rocket Love, a candle scent she created using a combination of blood orange, sandalwood, and bergamot. It’s an homage to the Stevie Wonder song of the same name.
“We felt Stevie was a great reference to Black culture and Black music,” says Fender. “It’s a great leg to our brand.”
The next candle scent was Mama’s Gun, an earthy blend of clary sage, basil, and peppermint, and a nod to Black singer-songwriter Erykah Badu. Although Rocket Love is a fruity, summery scent, Fender plans to keep it available into the fall and beyond, with more candle scents in the works.
“People are passionate about having good scents in their homes,” she says. “[They] are looking for different ways to indulge and ways to practice self-care, and I feel like candles are a way to make a home feel more homey.”
Fender wanted their candles to be affordable, so they set the price point at $16 for an 8-ounce candle. Portrait staff pour the wax into glass jars, and Fender says the jars can be repurposed after use.
“You can clean out the remaining wax and use it for whatever,” she says.
In addition to candles, Portrait also collaborated with a local soft serve ice cream brand called Big Softie during the month of September. Fender predicts a soft serve revival as a new trend; she and her husband, Portrait cofounder Aaron Fender, “have a ritual called Big Softie Sundays,” she says. “It’s the highlight of our week! So, I posted about Big Softie at some point, and Sarah, the owner, reached out to our team about doing a collaboration.”
Big Softie remixed Portrait’s Aunt Viv latte (named for Janet Hubert’s character on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”), made with cardamom and brown sugar, into a cold brew ice cream float. They also created a coffee soft serve made with Portrait’s Founders roast.
After closing its dining room in mid-March, A 2nd Cup quickly pivoted to “Pandemic Pantry,” selling kitchen staples sourced from distributors.
“It definitely filled in a void that we saw with people for just some basic necessities like eggs and flour and yeast,” says operations director Brooke Evans. “[Back in March,] you couldn’t find yeast anywhere.”
They also sold hand sanitizer, toilet paper, tea, and chocolate chips and cocoa. Since the coffee shop has a social mission of raising awareness about human trafficking and a job-training program for survivors, all of its sugar, chocolate, and other merchandise is fair trade.
Grocery stores now stock yeast and toilet paper more reliably than they did in the spring, so the shop has moved away from selling pantry items. However, they’re still selling drinks such as mocha, chai, cold brew, and lattes in half-gallons.
“That’s something that has definitely stuck,” says Evans. “People are opting to get those larger bulk drinks to have at home. They’ll come in once a week and pick up a half-gallon.”
A 2nd Cup is also selling large volumes of tea leaves and coffee beans. Evans believes that’s because most of their customers are still working from home rather than picking up a to-go coffee on their way to work.
Jars of the house-made fair trade syrups are also popular. Flavors include coconut, caramel, vanilla, secret squirrel (hazelnut and amaretto), mint, mocha, and honey rosemary. The latter syrup started as a seasonal offering, but it’s become so popular that Evans says they plan to keep selling it. Customers use the syrups for lattes, but they can also be used in cocktails.
While Texas allowed dining rooms to reopen at partial capacity, A 2nd Cup has not reopened its dining room and instead added picnic tables outside. They have sold house-made breakfast tacos for a while, but they’re especially popular now with to-go orders.
“We have made sure everything in our shop that we’re selling is stuff that transports well and is still good if you’re taking it home,” says Evans.
In addition to food and drinks, A 2nd Cup partnered with another anti-trafficking organization, Elijah Rising, to sell hand-poured candles, with scents like Earl Grey and Almond Milk Latte, and bath and body product like lip balm and soap. The candles have sold especially well.
They’ve also partnered with two other organizations to sell masks. A 2nd Cup logo shirts, mugs, and enamel pins are also available.
“Having that added revenue stream has helped keep us going,” says Evans.