COVID-19 has changed so much about modern life: our daily habits, our social customs, and even our language, giving birth to new phrases like “doomscroll” and “Zoom bomb.” So why shouldn’t it change our coffee drinks too?
Coffee’s many wondrous combinations have long reflected the world around it. Take the Americano, for example: popular legend holds it was created by American G.I.’s serving in Italy during World War Two, who sought the mellow drip flavors of home by combining water to Italian espresso. We’re in a new world war of sorts right now, and the ever-adaptable nature of coffee is keeping right up with the times in the form of a new popular beverage.
If you had asked me two months ago if I wanted to purchase a gallon of latte, my response would have been bewilderment. The latte, heretofore, has long been understood as a single unit of beverage measurement. But in this new world brought about by COVID-19, if I’m going to risk my health—and potentially my life—to undertake the once-mundane act of making a coffee run, you better believe I’m going to make it count.
Enter the latte in bulk. The gallon latte. The Bulk Latte, the Batch Latte, the Big Gulp. Or as we’ve taken to calling here at Sprudge, Lattes Grandes—plural lattes, presented together in a single large format unit. This is the reality we as consumers are facing right now, one where the statement, “I’d like as much latte as you can give me in a single vessel” expresses a truth, and it is one that agile coffee companies nationwide are adapting to by offering a variety of flavors of ready-to-drink lattes in bulk.
This is just one of many pivots industrious cafes have made over the last two months. Transforming into pantries, selling secret recipes, and now, lattes by the gallon and half-gallon. There appear to mutual points of genesis, including Augie’s Coffee in California and Onyx Coffee Lab in Arkansas. The idea for the bulk ready-to-drink latte born out of the desire to continue serving the needs of the needs of the community when normal means of doing so were no longer available. Onyx co-founder Jon Allen tells us, “We were trying to find a way to serve our customers that wanted to continue to enjoy coffee but were hesitant to come out every day.”
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A similar sentiment was expressed by Kyle Ramage, co-founder of Black & White Coffee Roasters in Wake Forest, North Carolina, another early adopter of the emerging bulk latte (Lattes Grandes) trend. “We are in the ‘social space’ business but we can’t really do that now,” Ramage tells Sprudge. “So anything we can do to help meet that social connection need we are here for it,” adding, “We jacked the idea from Onyx.” Not to be outdone, Black & White offers their Bulk Iced Lattes in flavors like Vanilla, Brown Sugar Cinnamon, Mocha, and Horchata, and can be made with whole cow’s milk or oat or almond milk.
The idea has spread far and wide in just a few short weeks. Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Square One Coffee is selling half-gallon and gallon versions of their iced and chai lattes as well as a half-gallon option of their lavender matcha latte and even an iced London fog. Elsewhere in Everett, Washington, Narrative Coffee is also selling Rested Iced Lattes equivalent to eight regular sized lattes and includes flavors like Ritual Mocha and Salted Bourbon Butterscotch.
And thus far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “We have had more trouble sourcing half gallon milk jugs than selling them,” Onyx’s Jon Allen tells us. Ramage concurs: “People have been into them for sure. I think partially to support us and partially to get a latte fix.” The success has been so overwhelming that both companies are considering keeping the large format lattes on the menu permanently. “It’s been a big part of us staying open and we think it will continue. We are exploring a more permanent option for after the pandemic as well due to the success,” says Allen.
There’s something beautiful about coffee’s ability to adapt itself to societal pressures, and the idea that our drink names reflect a place in time, a moment of captured public imagination. If necessity is the mother of invention, then these trying months may just have birthed a new coffee drink on the masses, and created a new format for the ongoing RTD wars. Whatever you want to call them—XL Lattes, Big Gulps, or Lattes Grandes (Peggy Hill exaggerated rolled “r” affect optional but suggested)—let’s embrace this as a new drink for our strange times, one that accompanies the new modern coffee shop order in bulk. I’d like a dozen eggs, five pounds of flour, an entire coffee cake, and yes, a liter of lattes to go.
Top image via Onyx Coffee Lab