In a time where forced “#PSL season” commercialism and a nonsense controversy around red printed cups have exhausted the minds of coffee consumers, Go Get Em Tiger in Los Angeles are going their own way.
Shop owners Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski are big turkey day fans; whether they are true Starbucks fans, however, is another matter. In homage (or perhaps parody) to the annual glut of Holiday sugar drinks from Starbucks, Babinski and Glanville have created a new tradition: a one-day-only menu of Starbucks-themed holiday drinks, served each year on Thanksgiving.
The service began four years ago, back in G&B's pop-up days at SQIRL. With much of Los Angeles closed for business that day, the duo decided instead to remain open, offering patrons a place to drink coffee and perhaps avoid family if necessary. “The idea was to do a special thing, and we thought, like, 10 people would show up… and we got our butts kicked,” Babsinski remembers.
Since then, the yearly Starbucksification of Glanville & Babinski's menu has become an event in its own right, planned for months in advance with collaborators like Chelsea Scott, Go Get Em Tiger's pastry chef. From casual brainstorming and tossing ideas to serious meetings and discussion over ingredient preparation (all of which gets made in house, of course), the planning begins as early as June.
“The closer we get to the actual day the closer we go kind of crazy,” Scott admits. “It always gets a little out of control. We always end up being super ambitious with what we end up doing.”
“The thing took off and became something that’s like our Super Bowl,” Babinski affirms. “It’s a big event for us.”
When we talk holiday drink items from Starbucks, we’re not just talking syrups mixed into coffee. This year's pumpkin spice latte homage featured a miniature house-made kabocha squash & whipped cream pie, resting flakily atop a cup of steamed milk, espresso, house pumpkin spice syrup and nutmeg caramel. One did not simply sip this drink; you had to take a spoon and stab this sucker, pie collapsing into the warm beverage below, with sweet bits crumbling softly into the steaming glass.
The festive crème brulee latte was similarly elaborate: a glass of custard pudding milk tea made with Song Tea’s Old Tree Yunnan, topped with a breakable rum custard sugar seal. Or what about the humble peppermint mocha? At GGET it came served in an edible three-ounce “Chocolate Medansky” cup, containing a single shot of 49th Parallel espresso, mint whipped cream and candied mint leaf. Sip your drink, then chase it by eating the cup whole.
Each year offers a new set of flavors and concepts for the cafe to play with, hanging out alongside annual returning favorites. Their bottled espresso-spiked eggnog latte returns each year, and is a crowd favorite. But the most popular offering in 2016—for both staff and guests alike—was without a doubt the “Cup of Toffee” latte.
With branding mirroring a Nissin Cup of Noodles, the “Cup of Toffee” was served with dry and wet ingredients. in the cup you got sticks of housemade toffee and a sprinkling of Sudden Coffee, today's updated version ready-to-drink instant coffee. On the side you're given a little cup of steamed almond macadamia milk. Pour the hot milk into the dry ingredients, combine, and eat, using coffee stir sticks as a kind of poor man's chopstick to fish out the toffee ribbons. This ramen-esque beverage is their most singular drink yet.
Chelsea Scott says, “It was just one of those things where we were laughing so much just thinking about it, and making it actually happen was a lot of fun.” Guests were also able to pre-order some of Scott's own pies for pick-up on that day, with flavors like kabocha pumpkin and brown butter pecan. Some 250 pies were prepared by Scott and her team in the two days leading up to Thanksgiving.
With baristas mixing furiously in Christmas sweaters, paper snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, and NSYNC’s holiday album on the speakers, the Thanksgiving tradition at Go Get Em Tiger shows no signs of stopping. Indeed, it's become something of a certifiable coffee tradition in Los Angeles, a community gathering in a city where the coffee scene can still feel brand new. This event is about so much more than just one day in November; it's no wonder they start thinking about it in June.
Katrina Yentch is a Sprudge contributor based in Los Angeles. Read more Katrina Yentch on Sprudge.
Photos by Jesse Tenorio courtesy of Go Get Em Tiger. Top photo by Katrina Yentch for Sprudge Media Network.