On the Grind: Tasting six drinks from Columbia's coffee shops

Baristas from local coffee shops recommend their favorite drinks.

For some, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But for me, the most important meal is coffee. I consider myself an avid coffee drinker, and at the start of my freshman year at MU, I made a goal to sample all the local coffee shops in Columbia. After finding different shops, I wanted to try some drink recommendations from local baristas. Here is what I found out.

Aroma Coffee House - Cinnamon Bun Latte

This drink was recommended by Aroma Coffee House supervisor, Aixa Perez, who has worked there since October 2020. Perez said she prefers the drink iced.

“This is a mix of all our popular flavors and it’s really sweet,” Perez said. “So if you like sweet drinks, I’d definitely recommend it.”

This drink is a lot of sweet, a lot of cream and a lot of spice. If you like a heavy, flavorful drink, then this is for you. The cinnamon adds a special kick to the creamy richness, giving extra flavor to the latte. I enjoyed it, but it was a little sweet for me. I would only order this drink as a sweet treat or a pick-me-up on a dreary day.

Coffee Zone - Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Co-owner and manager Issam Yanis greeted me with a smile and enthusiastic description of the Vietnamese iced coffee during my visit. After learning of Yanis’ over 20 years of experience at Coffee Zone, I was excited to give his recommendation a try.

“We make it here in the house,” Yanis said. “It’s sweet, has a full body and is really strong and flavorful.”

Yanis also explained how the drink is half mocha slushee, half Vietnamese coffee. This combination makesfor the perfect mix of sweet and bitter flavors. It resembles a frappuccino in liquid form and is very tasty. I would definitely recommend this drink on a hot day for a cool, sweet treat.

Fretboard Coffee - Black Cold Brew

Barista Corey Hadfield has worked at Fretboard Coffee for two years, and during that time, he has deemed the black cold brew as his favorite drink.

“We do a pretty different cold brew than anyone else in town,” Hadfield said. “We use a method where the cold brew drips and takes twelve hours to brew. It’s pretty condensed and is very smooth and chocolatey. It’s very bold.”

This drink was definitely a very strong cup of coffee, perhaps too strong for my taste. It had a rich, dark chocolatey taste and was good in small doses, but I couldn’t handle more than a few sips. The harsh bitterness overpowered the drink. I did appreciate the quality of the coffee, as well as the addition of coffee ice cubes.

Lakota Coffee Company - Double Honey Iced Oat Milk Latte

As a Columbia classic, Lakota Coffee Company was highly recommended. Barista and manager, Angela Bondoni, recommended a double honey iced oat milk latte.

“Oat milk pairs really well with our espresso, and the honey pairs really well with the oat milk,” Bondoni said. “I just prefer iced drinks, especially in the summer.”

The drink had a nice balance of flavors, and the most prominent to me was a rough salty taste. The consistency was very smooth and thick. I am not a huge fan of honey in coffee, so this wasn’t my favorite, but I appreciated the complementary mix.

Three Story Coffee - Cold Brew Latte

As an avid coffee drinker, I stop by Three Story Coffee multiple times a week. This is one of my favorite coffee shops in Columbia. However, I tend to always get the same thing: a salted caramel iced oat milk latte. I was excited to try a cold brew latte, recommended by barista Landon Williams.

“I like how light our cold brew is,” Williams said. “It’s really fruity.”

After one sip, I turned to my friend and said, “Oh, wow. That’s good.” This drink was incredibly smooth with the perfect balance of sweet and bitter. Once again, I was hesitant to drink a straight cold brew, as I usually drink flavored coffee, but I was pleasantly surprised. It had a mild nutty taste and was overall a 10/10 cup of coffee.

Papa’s Cat Cafe - Dynamic Duo Latte

Cafe manager Kirsten Burton recommended the dynamic duo latte, one of the options on the cafe’s specialty drinks menu. Burton’s usual drink is a classic latte, but this is her drink of choice when craving a fancier cup of joe.

“This one is less sweet than the other specialty drinks,” Burton said. “The caramel cuts the sweetness, so I like the flavor the best. The birthday cake latte is definitely the cutest though.”

I have to agree with Burton – this is one sweet drink. The coffee alone is very milky and sweet, but the toppings really push it over the edge. With whipped cream, a caramel drizzle and a chocolate drizzle, the sweetness overpowers any bitter flavor the coffee beans may hold. The cup also contains mostly toppings, so when it comes down to it, a customer is really paying for a whole lot of whipped cream and syrup. Although it was a fun treat, it is not a drink I would crave or get on a regular occasion.

After sampling recommendations from all over Columbia, I found that Three Story Coffee barista Landon Williams’ recommendation of the cold brew latte was my favorite. However, each coffee shop had its own unique menu and added to the coffee shop charm of Columbia.

Edited by Angelina Edwards | aedwards@themaneater.com

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