This week in our drink series On The Menu, we’re highlighting the incredible work being done at Matryoshka Coffee in Nashville, Tennessee. We’re focusing on their elevated and extremely fun take on the gas station cappuccino (the kind of drink offered at service stations from an automatic froth-dispensing coffee machine). But before we do, we wanted to pull back a bit and take a look at the whole space, because like the drink itself, this place is an elevated and joy-provoking take on the cafe experience itself.
Inspired by designer and researcher Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book Joyful, Matryoshka was designed, built, tiled, and painted by founder Abbey Chiavaro to promote a feeling a joyfulness. The feeling is palpable, evoked by a use of bright colors, rounded geometric patterns, pops of interest, confetti, plant-life, and nostalgic foodstuffs like instant ramen and breakfast cereal. Chiavaro’s partner Jake Chiavaro operates a coffee and technician business called Technico in the same building unit, and Matryoshka serves as its cafe storefront (described as a “postage stamp sized” space but big enough to fit some table seating).
The cafe opened in December of 2021 “and has come to embody so much more than colorful interiors coupled with good coffee. It represents community, inclusiveness, joy, playfulness, a safe space, and we hope it continues to evolve in this same way,” their website proudly states. “Matryoshka is a dedicated safe space for our LGBTQIA+ community and other minority groups and we intend to do all we can to ensure we stay that way.”
This is all, let’s be clear, absolutely sweet music to our cafe loving ears. But about that drink: Abbey Chiavario’s “Gas Station Capp” combines vanilla made with brown sugar and infused with cardamom and nutmeg and complemented with a traditional vanilla syrup. The drink has its genesis in the one-touch machines dispensing French vanilla cappuccino commonly found at places like 7-11 and Buccee’s and so forth, all around America (our international readers may be intrigued and appalled in equal measure, which is 100% the correct response).
At Matryoshka the goal is to build on nostalgia while adding a little more flavor. They aim to provide a creamy cappuccino that’s well-balanced and not too sweet. It’s available both hot and iced starting at $4.50. We simply had to learn more, so we sat down with Abbey Chiavaro digitally to discuss the Gas Station Cappuccino.
Hey Abbey! Thanks for speaking with us. First things first, is there a specific gas station that inspired this beverage?
I grew up going to my local Speedway, but they’re all good as far as I’m concerned!
Can you share some of your past signature drinks at Matryoshka Coffee?
Our crowd favorite wild card was a drink we had during “fair season” at the end of the summer inspired by freshly-popped kettle corn. It was called, unsurprisingly, the Kettle Corn Cappuccino. It was a cappuccino that had 10mL of sweetened condensed milk with the espresso, popcorn steeped milk, and topped with sea salt. We also had a one-day-only drink on Earth Day last year that was a dirt pudding latte. It was a scoop of chocolate putting on the bottom, topped with an iced mocha, and garnished with oreo crumbs and a gummi worm. People *loved* this drink. Another fun one we do is another one-day-only drink on New Years Eve called No Resolutions. It’s iced coffee topped with vanilla cold foam, glitter, edible stars, and strawberry pop rocks. And, finally, my other favorite is the Dirty Dr. Pepper—a short iced oat milk latte with a little vanilla and topped with Dr. Pepper. The espresso/oat milk combo interacts with the carbonation in the soda to create a float-like texture and it’s incredible.
I love that the cafe itself was inspired in part by Ingrid Fetell Lee’s Joyful! What brings you the most joy?
I love our customer’s reactions to our drinks. At this point, the idea of glitter is so commonplace in here that I often forget it isn’t “normal”, so it’s incredibly fun to serve the Confetti Cuban or Gas Station Cappuccino to a customer who is excited about the idea of edible glitter. This entire environment brings me an incredible amount of joy. We’re tiny —300 sq ft with four tables, and it really does feel like an extension of my living room a lot of times. People come in and sit down but often, due to space, offer up an extra chair at their table or start a conversation with someone next to them about what they’re reading or drawing. There’s something about it in here that feels magical. We get people who come in and laugh and cry (if you cry, we have a sticker that says “i cried at matryoshka” hehehe). It’s special and pretty close to magic.
Visit Matyroshka Coffee at 370 Herron Dr. #4 in Nashville, Tennessee and follow them on Instagram. Photos by Victoria Quirk courtesy Matryoshka Coffee.
Photos by Victoria Quirk