Last Updated: February 16, 2024, 12:07 pm by TRUiC Team

Choosing Flavors & Drink Enhancements for Your Specialty Cafe

The third wave of coffee movement continues to fuel a fast-growing industry. Depending on your location, your new coffee shop may face competition from multiple business owners also attempting to start their own dream cafes. That means you must offer items beyond just amazing coffee to set your business apart.

Let’s start with some simple, yet enticing enhancements to your coffee offerings.

Recommended: Read our full, in-depth How to Start a Coffee Shop Business guides, inspired by coffee professionals, they will help make your coffee dreams real, from sourcing beans to hiring baristas, choosing the best POS system, forming an actual company, and everything in between.

Learn about the different flavors and drink enhancements you can use for your specialty coffee shop.

Specialty Drinks And The Enhancements That Make Them

If you’ve worked in a third-wave coffee shop, you already know customers often ask, “Do you have any specialty drinks?” The concept of opening a coffee shop with a special beverage as the star attraction is still fairly new. It’s an approach that can work well — if only to lure people in the door for the first time.

Cup & Bar in Portland, Ore., is a great example of a shop using the specialty drink approach. Its “Dirty Charlie” beverage, a macchiato with chocolate, drove significant buzz on social media for its overall tastiness and visual appeal that lead to gorgeous photos on Instagram.  

Consider creating a signature drink for your cafe that not only aligns with your brand, but also showcases your high-quality ingredients.

Flavored Syrups

While syrups remain a topic of much debate in the third-wave coffee community, it’s worth considering them as a potential differentiation for your cafe. Some third-wave coffee shops don’t offer any syrups, some only serve vanilla and chocolate, and some feature a wide range of flavors based on customer preferences.

The right approach for your shop depends largely on your local customer base. Are your customers already familiar with big coffee chains and their wide variety of flavor options? If yes, then consider carrying at least chocolate and vanilla syrups to maintain a level of comfort for customers not yet familiar with third-wave coffee. Familiarizing yourself with what already sells well in your area is another way to help you decide which syrups to carry in your cafe. Check out other local establishments to see which flavors work for them and consider something similar.

Once you decide which, if any, syrups you want to carry, it’s time to think about where you will source these flavorful additions. Given your cafe’s focus on specialty coffee, the products you pair with your coffee should be special as well. Here are a few factors to consider as you evaluate flavored syrups:

  • Conduct a tasting. Test each syrup brand with your coffee to ensure it enhances the drink’s overall flavor profile. For example, chocolate syrups with floral notes can alter the taste of coffee by making it seem much sweeter. Be sure your syrup flavors pair well with the coffees you plan to feature.
  • Consider making your own syrups. Homemade syrups are an easy solution if you don’t have a high-quality, local supplier. This in-house approach also gives you an opportunity to introduce different flavors to your menu while creating a special product for your customers.
  • Keep it local. Featuring local products is a best practice for specialty coffee shops, whenever possible. Because you’re a craft-food business, your customers are more likely to invest in high-quality, local products than a mass-produced syrup.

Milk & Milk Alternatives

Milk is, without a doubt, coffee’s best friend. While cow’s milk is the most common type found in specialty coffee shops, many cafes now offer at least some milk alternatives given their recent increase in popularity.

At a minimum, you’ll need to carry whole milk, half-and-half, and nonfat milk. Whole milk is the most popular choice to pair with coffee because of its high protein content, which makes it both tasty and easier to steam. It’s common to offer 2 percent milk as well, but many baristas simply combine the whole and nonfat milks instead.

Next, you must decide which milk alternatives you plan to carry. The most common options include soy, almond, coconut, and, more recently, oat. Each of these milk alternatives come in “Barista Series” versions with added protein to simplify steaming.

Pro Tip: When choosing which milks to add to your menu, check out what nearby cafes in your area already offer. For example, if you plan to open a cafe in Portland or Los Angeles, you should carry a wide range of alternative milks due to the high volume of vegans and health-conscious customers in those metro areas.

Now let’s look at other popular menu additions that can help differentiate your business.

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Recommended: Considering serving food at your cafe? Check out our article on selecting the right food and pastries for your coffee shop.

Tea & Other Beverages

While your cafe may focus on coffee, customers will expect you to carry a range of other beverages as well. This can include tea, juice, sparkling water, and any other drinks you want to offer. The more options you have in terms of non-caffeinated beverages, the more business you may receive outside of the normal morning rush.

If you only carry one type of additional beverage, choose tea. Why? Teas, including chai and matcha, continue to increase in popularity worldwide. Consider the following of you plan to offer tea in your cafe:

  • Choose a provider that aligns with your business values. Tea from suppliers that match your ethical and stylistic approach can add a unique appeal to your cafe.
  • Don’t let tea sit on the backburner. If you plan to serve a high-quality brewed tea or tea latte, such as matcha, ensure you do it well. These beverages often cost as much, if not more, than coffee drinks so they deserve the same level of care and attention.

Other popular beverages to consider carrying for customers who avoid caffeine or simply want something different include sodas, orange and apple juices, plain and flavored sparkling waters, and kombucha.

Pro Tip: You will most likely carry sparkling water or mineral water as a backup for your espresso drinks. Selling bottles of these waters can provide another option for customers just seeking a little refreshment. Consider also making your own infused sparkling water to compliment your espresso flavor profile or to sell on its own.

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