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Pride is on the Menu with Discourse Coffee’s “Gay Agenda”

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A drink from Discourse Coffee’s The Gay Agenda creative menu, available at both Discourse Milwaukee locations through July. All images by Junior & Co., courtesy of Discourse Coffee.

The inventive beverage crafters at Milwaukee’s Discourse Coffee Workshop are taking extra pride in their experimental drinks menu this season.

In celebration of Pride Month, the entire special menu for June and July this year at Discourse is called The Gay Agenda. It showcases seven queer cultural icons and milestones from over the past 50 years through drinks that are each a different color of the rainbow.

Discourse Coffee Founder and Creative Director Ryan Castelaz told DCN that the rainbow idea emerged organically during a regular menu planning meeting, even before the Pride Month correlation was realized. Discourse routinely begins planning and development of its creative menus about six weeks prior to each launch.

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“The idea grew from there into this assembly of queer stories told through the colors of the rainbow for what became The Gay Agenda,” said Castelaz. “Our staff is 85% queer, and this whole process was so empowering for them.”

Destiny DeVooght, who is head of the Discourse drink innovation team and also planned, scheduled and executed a series of Pride Month events at Discourse, created a drink called the Blue Star, combining spirulina, blueberry juice, tonic and bitters with a sous vide coffee infused with pickled blueberry skin.

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“It was a lot of fun to see people get really funky and reach outside of their comfort zones to make the color thing work without dyes, while still producing a drink that is complex and delicious,” DeVooght told DCN. “Queerness is so magical, and I think this menu is an excellent representation of the intersections between identity and creativity.”

A particularly elaborate affogato called I Know A B**** When I See One was created by barista Alex Prevost, referencing a line from the 1969 American comedy film “The Gay Deceivers.”

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Prevost first invented a complex and bright yellow ice cream recipe using dandelion, calendula, turmeric and other ingredients. The recipe was then made to scale through a partnership with Milwaukee’s own Sweet Tooth Grin.

Using Discourse’s established spherification technique, Prevost suspends a concentrated extraction of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch coffee blend by Portland-based roaster Sunday Coffee Project in a shell of white chocolate, cocoa butter, and turmeric.

Customers crack the sphere with a spoon to release the coffee onto the ice cream in a bowl garnished with a salted calendula sugar shard.

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“[The shard] drives home the floral imagery, and creates a crunchy, salty balance to the creamy sweetness below,” said Castelaz. “This drink was developed to be explosive like the character’s outburst, but also deeply floral and earthy like the subject matter of the discussion.”

These and other drinks are available at Discourse’s two current Milwaukee coffee bars, one downtown and one at the Radio Milwaukee building.

The success of each menu item is tracked and recorded by Castelaz and business partner Sean Liu. Castelaz then leverages the data into actionable insights to share with the Discourse team, while allowing creativity to inhabit as prominent a role as sales.

For example, baristas are not required to include coffee in their drinks, even though coffee-based drinks are proven to be better sellers. For the benefit to flavor transparency, most of The Gay Agenda is actually tea-based.

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“Our audience does prefer these drinks to be coffee based, and preferably espresso, which limits creative freedom to an extent,” said Castelaz. “It’s a really hard question to answer, and one we’re still finding our own response to: Do we make what we want to make, or what our audience wants to drink? Where is the balance point? It’s really in the creation of these concepts, the trial and error, the bevy of new techniques and ingredients and considerations, that the most growth, learning, and value accrues.”

The formula so far has worked well for Discourse. Castelaz reported that not a single negative email, comment or message has surfaced on any of its social media or other platforms, and that the in-person reception to The Gay Agenda has also been purely positive.

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“The people with us know what we stand for, and that support has felt so incredible,” said Castelaz. “The most difficult part is keeping the drinks in stock. We’ve received a ton of new customers from these drinks, but again, that is never the point. The point is to put important, real messages in front of people. To offer representation to a community that makes up over 80% of our company, and our entire drink innovation team — to celebrate what makes us us.”

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