[T]he options for coffee accompaniments were once limited to dry bagels or day-old croissants. Caffeine was the main draw, food was an afterthought, and health was barely a consideration. While coffee still takes center stage, many café owners are stepping up their ingredients game to ensure the loyalty of health-conscious customers. Cafés like Fox & Fig and Timeless Coffee pair vegan menus with coffee drinks prepared with house-made non-dairy milks. Other cafés, such as Picnik and the Good Sort, are even incorporating superfood elements into their mochas and lattes.
Fox & Fig, the fourth entry in Jennifer Jenkins’ collection of cafés in Savannah, Georgia, is due to open in September. Co-owner and general manager Clayton Ehmke is enthusiastic about the entirely vegan menu. “It’s definitely brunch-centric, like brunch tapas,” he says. “We’ll have an artichoke-walnut burger with grilled pear, dijon, and agave; a potato hash with caramelized onions; and a soaked chia pudding with basically every fruit, nut, and seed you can think of on top. And definitely some vegan tea sandwiches, which is a Southern thing. We have about twelve different dishes planned out.”
Non-dairy coffee beverages at Fox & Fig will incorporate soy, coconut, almond, macadamia, and house-made cashew-hemp milk. “Our coffee is Perc,” remarks Ehmke. “We’re going to have three tap handles. We plan to have nitro cold-brew, a rotating single-origin coffee, and a draft latte made with almond and coconut milk.”
The donuts of vegan chef Shawn Harrison will round out the menu. Ehmke has some ideas for pairing donut flavors with different Perc blends: “The dark-chocolate blood-orange goes perfectly with the single-origin Brazil Irmas Pereira, which is a real chocolaty, rich coffee.”
Ehmke is equally passionate about veganism and coffee, and he sees Fox & Fig as a way to combine these two passions while developing ties with Savannah’s vegan community. Timeless Coffee in Oakland, California, another vegan café, also arose out of the dual passion of its owners. Explains co-owner RJ Leimpeter, “I had worked in the coffee industry for about seven years and always wanted to have a place of my own. I have been vegan since 1997 and wanted to create something new with my two loves [coffee and vegan food]. To my knowledge, there was no all-vegan coffee roastery and bakery in Oakland. When I met Violett Slocum, our head baker and creator, I knew that together we could make this dream come true.”
Timeless Coffee features three different single-origin pour-overs every month. Coffee is sourced from two local importers, Coffee Shrub in Oakland and Red Fox Coffee Merchants in Berkeley. The food menu includes savory items like empanadas and potpies, as well as cookies, scones, and chocolates.
Leimpeter says customer reaction to an all-vegan menu has been positive. “We did not want to push our beliefs on anyone or scare any customers, so we felt it was best not to label ourselves as a ‘vegan’ shop. We wanted to create an environment that was all-inclusive and warm. Because we walk people through their options when they come in, the customer reaction is a very positive one. We take great pride in making everyone feel welcome and not judged if they are taken aback by the milk options only being almond or soy.”
Staff members at Timeless aren’t required to be vegan, but they undergo extensive training on ingredients and products, and understand the café’s mission. “Our staff is very prepared to answer any questions that may arise from customers being interested in how we make our products,” Leimpeter says. “We train our employees to be very engaged with every customer, and we always take time with anyone who might need a little assistance or have a lot of questions.”
Austin, Texas–based Picnik, which originated as a paleo-inspired food truck, calls itself a “creative, superfood-focused coffee shop.” Explains founder Naomi Seifter, “We saw that our customers were very passionate about our coffee, so we continued to expand our beverage menu.” Now, the restaurant is known for its butter coffee drinks. Says Seifter, “Every coffee on our menu starts with the base of grass-fed butter and MCT oil in order to support cognitive function, aid in digestion, and facilitate a healthy metabolism.” Customers can choose from favorites like house chai or peppermint mocha, or explore adventurous offerings like a golden milk matcha or a chaga mushroom hot chocolate. “The majority of our coffees are lightly sweetened with maple syrup and have an added boost of protein from grass-fed collagen or whey protein,” Seifter says. Picnik’s food menu, which includes breakfast tacos with cassava flour tortillas and guacamole with almond flour tortilla chips, is free of soy, gluten, corn, and peanuts.
Seifter’s focus on allergen-free food helps to foster strong customer relationships. “We show people which items are vegan-friendly,” she explains, “and we denote any allergens on our menu so people feel they can order safely. As a result of our attention to educating our guests, we often have customers come to dine with us that have had a hard time dining out in restaurants because of diet or allergy restrictions. It is truly the greatest joy to be able to provide a safe and indulgent experience for them; this is the foundation of our culinary point of view.”
Customers in New York City can enjoy the same attention to ingredients at the Good Sort. Open since January 2016, the café serves layered rainbow lattes made with Australian Vittoria coffee, Chinese tea, and various plant-based ingredients like beet and sesame. Health-conscious customers can pair a blue algae latte with vegan toasts, pastries, and congees. General manager Kate Ross says, “We wanted to create a beverage that was just as good on the eye as it was the body. We played around with the colorful lattes we already offer to create this rainbow-layered beverage. The trick is the density of the milk.”
The Good Sort’s rainbow lattes have gone viral on Instagram. According to Ross, most guests come in asking for the beverages, but later become fans of the food. “Those looking for what we offer seek us out; those who just pop in are excited to find our café in the center of Chinatown.”
While customers increasingly demand more vegan and health-conscious items, high-quality coffee continues to be as important as ever. New customers to Fox & Fig in September will recognize Ehmke’s work—and Perc’s coffee—from the mini-empire of Foxy Loxy cafés. Says Ehmke, “Though there are differences across the Foxy Loxy cafés, the common thread of coffee ties them all together. The crossover is definitely through our coffee program.”
—Kerry Politzer is a journalist and food columnist based in Portland, Oregon.