By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Apr 25, 2024 at 11:09 AM

If you were to ask me “What makes Discourse different from every other coffee shop in the city?” I might tell you that it reminds me of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel. 

The choices you face at the Discourse Cafe at Radio Milwaukee, 158 S. Barclay St., are similar to those you might encounter at any bar or restaurant. Are you in the mood for something comforting and familiar? Or do you want to branch out and try something new? Are you in the mood for something sweet or savory? A mix of both? 

The experience you end up with is largely about what you want to pull from it. Are you after a morning buzz? An afternoon pick-me-up? Are you in the mood to explore? Do you want to learn something? Do you want to be surprised? Are you ready to escape from the usual and immerse yourself in an adventure?

Much like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel, it doesn’t matter how you answer the questions. In fact, you can answer them a different way every single time and experience the story from an entirely new angle. 

At Discourse, there’s something for everyone, plus the opportunity to branch out and explore coffee in a way you may not have done before. 

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From drip to Sous Vide 

You can walk into Discourse and simply order a cup of coffee. It’s an experience that requires no expertise, just a simple friendly transaction at the counter. 

Even then, you’re consuming a better-than-average cup. Every cup of drip coffee at Discourse is brewed using a Ground Control brewer, a coffee brewing system that solves the problem of over- or under-extraction, producing a batched cup of coffee that’s closer in its flavor profile to a pour-over.

From there, you might get curious. What about that Sous Vide Coffee? 

Sous Vide coffee is made with the same coffee as the drip coffee. But the beans are brewed for an extended period of time using mid-temperature extraction (a pour-over is brewed in five minutes or less at 206 degrees, while sous vide is brewed for 12 hours at between 145-150). So, if you want, you can even host your own private taste test by ordering one of each.

The result is a medium-brew that falls somewhere between a cold brew (acidic, sharp) and a pour-over (brighter) with a flavor profile that exhibits juicy, fruity richness. Drink it cold and it will give you a similar body to a cold brew, with a more balanced flavor. Ask for sous vide coffee hot and they will steam it for you, resulting in a frothy, aerated cup that allows you to taste even more of the coffee’s nuances.

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Pour Overs

How about a pour-over? Scan over the list of options and you’ll find a variety of coffees from which to choose. If you’re curious to learn more about the coffee you ordered, it comes with a card that offers up more information about the coffee’s origins and flavor profile.

If you want to explore different coffees from roasters throughout the world, you’re in the right place. Discourse features coffee from a different roastery each month. Most are micro roasters who are focused on quality and innovation. All have direct trade relationships with coffee farms, which allows for close collaborations and thought leadership from the farmers themselves to create coffee with distinctive qualities.

Coffees are chosen by Rich Stauder, Discourse’s Head of Coffee, who hosts cuppings for 16-20 coffees from three to six roasters each month, including repeat roasters like Junto (South Carolina), Methodical (South Carolina) and Presta (Arizona). From there, choices are made regarding which coffees are used for pour-overs at the cafe, as well as which single origin espresso will be featured every two weeks.

Most coffee sold at Discourse is priced between $20 and $40 a pound, making it somewhat of an investment. To ensure that money isn’t wasted on coffee that doesn’t meet someone’s flavor expectations, Discourse offers a way to taste test coffee at home for a reasonable price.

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Cassette tape-shaped cases, designed with a food-grade coating on the inside, hold a single serving of coffee beans. If there’s a coffee you’d like to take home and try with your brewing system, you can purchase a cassette tape for $3-$7 (plus a $3 deposit for the case itself).  If you like it, you can bring the empty cassette back and trade it in for $3 off a bag of that coffee. If not, you can bring it back to fill with a different coffee.

For those who’d like an inside look at the world of coffee, Discourse also plans to host public cuppings during which guests can sign up to taste coffee alongside veteran employees, learning the ins and outs of the coffee tasting experience.  Watch their social media for opportunities!

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Craft drinks

Most coffee programs are about brewing coffee, usually espresso, and adding milk and flavored syrups to create various flavored drinks. It’s an efficient way of diversifying the ways one can enjoy coffee.

Discourse’s Craft drinks begin in the same space. That catalog of familiar drinks has simply been reimagined with new techniques, house syrups, tinctures, powders and essences. The result is a drink that still offers up a familiar feeling, but which has been leveled up with a more nuanced flavor profile.

Do you normally order a honey latte?  You’ll love Moonwater, which is based on the Italian miel.

  • Fancy a vanilla latte?  Try the Channel Orange.
  • Caramel more your style? Check out the Motorhead. 
  • Live for the lavender latte? Flora embraces all those floral notes.
  • Just want a London Fog (Earl Grey latte)? Meet Lana del Fog.
  • Is a matcha latte more your speed?  The Parisian is all that and more.

“The idea,” notes Discourse Founder Ryan Castelaz, “Is that you start by offering something accessible and beautiful. From there, you develop trust, and then you can move forward and push the envelope even further.” 

Beyond those flavor profiles, Discourse has doubled down on the “experience” part of each beverage by working with local ceramicist, Jessica Egan of Little Fire Ceramics to create custom serveware.

Mug for Moonwater
Moonwater Mug

“This was such a wonderful collaboration because they gave me so much creative flexibility to translate what they said they needed into something that really wove into their story,” says Egan, who says she approached the process thoughtfully, looking for ways to incorporate the concepts of music and vinyl with the overall aesthetic of the space. 

“I spent a lot of time feeling the texture of vinyl records,” Egan notes, pointing to the stripes on the latte cups and the various textural elements she incorporated into various pieces.

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She also asked for the ingredients for drinks and lattes, exploring the feelings that they wanted each beverage to convey. 

“I like the iterative process,” she says. “So it was fun for me to go back and forth as I was creating. In the case of the Motorhead, I don’t ride a motorcycle myself, but I grew up with people who did. So, to me the notion is simultaneously rough and tumble, but also familiar. Sean is a big motorcycle rider, but he also has this amazing creative side. I wanted that to be reflected in the mugs.”

Motorhead mug
Motorhead mug

When designing a cup for Flora, she took a classic tea cup and designed it to accommodate the lavender sprig that accompanies the drink. Even more, when you lift up the mug to drink, each saucer has a different floral decal, playing into the concept of discovery that runs through the shop. 

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“So many things are one thing on the surface, but they beg to be explored more deeply,” notes Egan.


Experimental drinks

For those who want to jump headlong into an adventure, Discourse’s Experimental menu presents something new every month.

The drinks – made with either coffee or tea as a base – represent the truly creative side of the Discourse brand and their mission to push boundaries. Not only do the creations introduce guests to the wildly varied flavor profiles that can exist in the world of beverage, but they do so through flavor-based storytelling.

Each beverage begins as an idea from someone within the Discourse framework. From there, it takes just about six weeks for each drink to come to fruition. First, the Drink Making Innovation Team chooses a theme and five stories that need to be told. From there, drink makers create prototypes for their concepts, which are vetted, refined and ultimately introduced to the entire Discourse team.

The new menu’s theme is “The Music That Made Milwaukee Famous” and it delves into the stories of Milwaukee area-based musicians who’ve made an imprint on the scene.

Violently Stoned (Fruit): A peach-mint latte with a hint of kick created by Destiny (Des) DeVooght, was inspired by the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun”.  This drink is composed of espresso, oat milk, stone fruit and mint syrup, Bolivar Bitters and candied habanero powder with an Angostura-scorched peach slice. Available hot or iced.

Rhubarb Red: A seasonal roasted green tea latte created by Laine Lott in homage to Les Paul. The drink begins with Rishi hojicha tea smoothed with oat milk and flavored with rhubarb syrup, Disco Inferno, Orange Bitters, saline, rhubarb powder, strawberry salt and dehydrated orange garnish. Available hot or iced.

acrobat: A strawberry and citrus composition inspired by Al Jarreau and created by Alanna Szczech. The drink features strawberry top and olive slow drip coffee enhanced by the bitterness of Free Spirits n/a Milano, the complex citrusy notes of Timur pepper syrup, acid-adjusted orange juice, strawberry milk and makrut lime leaf. Served iced.

Sloww Hott Windd: A sexy, grown-up drink created by Noelie Ronczka in honor of Milwaukee’s unsung queen of jazz, Penny Goodwin. This drink features n/a bourbon slow drip coffee served over a lapsang souchong ice sphere with notes of vanilla, fig and ancho chili, a waft of palo santo smoke and garnish of orange peel. Served iced.

Big, Wig, Beautiful: An oolong-based drink created by Alex Prevost with inspiration from Trixie Mattel. The very pink drink begins with bubblegum oolong tea flavored with vanilla syrup, super lemon-lime, rose water, Jamaican No. 2 Bitters and enhanced with whipping cream, egg white, charcoal and rose powder. Served iced. 

Discourse Cafe at Radio Milwaukee is open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.