Every craft cocktail bar can serve up a lively espresso, cappuccino, or good ol’ regular cup-of-Joe concoction, but some of the most imaginative and unexpected coffee drinks can be found in a highly unexpected place: Discourse Coffee in Door County, Wisconsin.
The peninsula, which could be likened to the American Midwest by way of New England, has long been a draw for Chicagoans and Milwaukeeans for both its slower pace and its foodstuffs, including produce (particularly cherries), cheese, freshly caught fish, and homespun brunches. In more recent years, the area has also served as the home of Door County Spirits, which has earned numerous awards in spirits competitions across the U.S.
This new status quo gave Ryan Castelaz, a musician and Wisconsin native, all the more impetus last year to transform a simple space in an artsy Sister Bay mall into a laboratory of flavor called Discourse Coffee. While the décor and layout exude “classic coffeehouse,” the space behind the counter seamlessly melds the functionality of a molecular cocktail lounge and a science lab.
“We treat coffee here as a base spirit whenever we are creating our drinks,” Castelaz says. “We equate espresso with a high-proof liquor, and the flavors for our specialty creations have to be bold and boisterous to match that intensity. We also do a lot of infusions with our coffee and take many of our techniques and inspirations for our recipes from the culinary world. We’re pushing flavors and textures to new places as chefs would with food ingredients.”
When Castelaz decided to move on from music gigs and touring after moving to Door County, he says he needed an outlet that would allow him to “create new things to express [himself] and tell stories.” He started watching the documentary series Chef’s Table and was taken by the way the featured chefs told unique stories through food, and while he wasn’t a professional-caliber cook, he knew he was a maestro when it came to making the perfect cup of coffee.
That led Castelaz to wonder if he could tell similarly special stories through this medium as chefs and bartenders do in theirs, and “the process has been an exploration of that question,” he says. “On our website, our tagline is ‘Welcome to the 4th wave’ in that reinventing the coffee experience is a fourth wave,” he explains. “As a coffee shop, the bare minimum should be providing customers with the best coffees available. From there, we concentrate on taking things to new places using what we have learned from all the techniques and tricks from modern cuisine. It’s about transparency, great roasting, great brewing, and great equipment and using these to build up stories and statements that will encourage conversation around coffee and culture. This inspired our name, Discourse.”
During my visit earlier this year, Castelaz whipped up The Lovely Flame, his expressionistic spin on the experience of coming home after a day playing in the snow during childhood to find a spread of hot cocoa with marshmallows and fresh baked goods. In the drink, smoked honey emulates a roaring fire and complements a dehydrated Honeycrisp apple slice topping; cinnamon, clove, and sea salt tie the rest of the experience together.
While caramel macchiato hit the mainstream years ago in coffee bars large and small across the U.S., Castelaz took it upon himself to give the flavor and texture of this drink the “fourth-wave” treatment. His version, the Modern Miel, incorporates stabilized milk foam, cocoa caviar, and caramel chips into a coffee base.
As warm weather finally sets in in northern Wisconsin, Castelaz notes that he and his small crew are “diving deeper into [their] workshop roots and expanding [their] menu to five regular ‘cocktail’ selections, plus a rotating selection of specials that will change every couple of weeks.” He also looks forward to brewing up interest with restaurant and beverage industry trade members as well as coffee and tea connoisseurs with special store events.
For example, on one Tuesday each month, Discourse also plans to hold Experimental Tuesday events during which the shop will showcase its “wackiest and most innovative coffee and tea creations exclusively for food and beverage industry people from 4–9 p.m.”
“These specials may not be serviceable during our morning and afternoon café rushes, but it will show people the outer reaches of coffee in terms of its versatility and how different brews can be put into a glass but in very unexpected and new ways,” Castelaz says, adding customers can expect such surprises as a tiki-style drink with cold brew coffee and a few “wacky tea infusions” with seasonal flavors specific to Door County. “It adds a modern context to what Door County has produced for generations, including sumac, pine berries, and other indigenous cultivated and foraged produce.”
Now that Ryan Castelaz has turned the notion of “coffee talk” on its head, it will be interesting to see how he keeps the conversation going in the near future—especially if the trio of incredibly inventive recipes below is any indication of what’s to come from Discourse.
Visit Liquid Discourse Workshop online here.
What Winter Forgot
1 shot Pilcrow Coffee Roasters Storyteller Blend espresso
1 oz. Metolius Artisan Chai Tea concentrate
½ oz. honey simple syrup
⅓ tablespoon Dandelion Chocolate Chef’s (70% Kokoa Kamili, Tanzania)
5 oz. steamed oat and whole milk blend
Incorporate espresso, chai concentrate, honey simple syrup, and ground chocolate before adding the steamed oat and whole milk blend. Pour drink into an 8 oz. glass and garnish with 3 spritzes of Aroma of Winter (see instructions below), a light pinch of ras el hanout spice blend, and a flamed orange peel.
Preparations of individual components as follows:
Honey Simple Syrup
450 grams honey
50 grams filtered water (warmed to 208 degrees Fahrenheit)
Oat and Whole Milk Blend
40 oz. whole milk
24 oz. oat milk
Aroma of Winter
15 grams Lapsang Souchong
5 grams Rishi Turmeric Ginger Tea
1 orange peel
450 grams cold filtered water
Add all ingredients to a pint-sized mason jar and steep for 12 hours. Strain and add 10 drops of Bittercube Bolivar Bitters. Funnel into an atomizer.
Muddle sage with rosemary-ginger syrup. Fill a 10-ounce glass three-quarters full with ice. Add the tonic, bitters, and lemon juice and incorporate. Top with carbonated citron green tea and garnish with a lemon wedge, fresh thyme, and sage. Serve with a bamboo straw.
Preparations of individual components as follows:
75 grams fresh ginger, chopped
4 sprigs rosemary, plucked
300 grams granulated sugar
300 grams filtered water (warmed to 208 degrees Fahrenheit)
Thoroughly incorporate rosemary, ginger, and sugar with a muddler and leave to infuse overnight. Add filtered water, incorporate, and strain. Keeps 14 days in the refrigerator.
Carbonated Citron Green Tea
26 grams Harney & Sons Citron Green Tea
1,750 grams filtered water (warmed to 180 degrees Fahrenheit)
1 lemon peel
Steep tea in water for 3½ minutes and strain. Add the lemon peel and leave to infuse overnight. Strain again and carbonate in a soda siphon with one charge.