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A coffee trend takes flight in South Florida

Coffee flights? Growlers? Bottles? SoFla coffee shops are behaving a lot like breweries.

South Florida coffee shops are behaving more like breweries these days, filling growlers, selling limited-release bottles, pouring java on draft and serving flights of cold brew.

A handful of independent specialty-coffee shops is behind the trend, serving artisanal caffeine in ways that emulate how breweries serve beer. Drinking at breweries inspired Brian Protsman in mid-August to introduce coffee flights at his Switchbox Coffee Roasters in Oakland Park.

Similar to beer or wine flights, coffee flights are sample-size glasses served side by side, each drink brewed with a different method and bean: "El Salvador flash-chilled," "Ethiopian cold brew," "Guatemalan washed cold brew on nitro." At Switchbox, baristas deliver flights to customers on a wooden board shaped like a tiny canoe paddle.

"I'm taking a page out of the craft-beer industry," says Protsman, whose café is four blocks south of Funky Buddha Brewery. "By serving coffee in smaller quantities the way breweries do beer, it lets people try coffee they never heard of before."

This uncommon blending of coffee- and beer-serving practices migrated from big coffee cities Seattle and Portland to roasters in Denver, where Protsman lived for five years. But when Protsman opened Switchbox in May with his wife, Miriam, he couldn't find a shop that served coffee flights.

Cafes such as Switchbox cater to coffee connoisseurs, who are interested in complex flavors, countries of origin and brewing methods. Coffee flights appeal to these drinkers, Protsman says.

"The point of a flight is education," Protsman says. "We give spiels comparing and contrasting the bean, how the bean is processed after being removed from the cherry, how it dries, how we cold-brew. And people are like, 'Wow, I didn't know coffee could be roasted like that.' "

On a recent Wednesday morning at Switchbox, Lucas Almeida sat with his college textbooks and flights of coffee. A Switchbox habitue since the café opened, the Florida Atlantic University student has gotten his jolt from flights at least once a month. He favors flash-chilled cold brew, made by steeping coffee grounds in cold or tepid water then by filtering out bitter oils using a coffeemaker called a Toddy. The cold brew is then slow-dripped over ice cubes in a glass Chemex coffeemaker.

"It's smoother, bolder, more enjoyable. You can taste the notes," says Almeida, 20, sipping an El Salvador flight. "I study here a lot. It's just calmer than other coffee places where baristas shout drink orders."

Over the next two months, Protsman will make Switchbox even more brewerylike by installing a row of tap handles along the café's brick backsplash. He'll keg his coffee as if it were beer, infuse it with nitrogen and dispense cold brews into growlers, or large glass jugs that can be refilled.

Pumphouse Coffee Roasters in Jupiter is already filling coffee growlers with their morning joe, Dawn Patrol, a cold-brew blend of Ethiopian and Honduran beans containing notes of chocolate, brown sugar and lemon citrus. Christian Le Clainche, who opened Pumphouse in July with his brother, Alex, also sells Dawn Patrol in 12-ounce blue and sunrise-yellow bottles. He's been selling between 250 and 350 bottles per week to a handful of restaurants and juice shops, including Social House in Lake Worth and Celis Produce in West Palm Beach. A bottle of Dawn Patrol costs $4.

Starting Thursday, Sept. 8, the taproom at SaltWater Brewery in Delray Beach will pour Dawn Patrol on tap and serve a treatment of its Sea Cow Milk Stout infused with the cold brew.

"Coffee shops are emulating breweries because people are willing to pay premium for a quality product," says Le Clainche, 27, who also offers by-appointment tours of his roaster.

Avid surfers who chase predawn waves off Singer Island, the Le Clainche brothers named their roaster after the island's pump house. Le Clainche says the name Dawn Patrol recalls the time they grew up in Jamaica's Blue Mountains, where their father owned coffee farms.

"[Our cold brew] has this dark-coffee vibe that you see in Seattle, but we put a South Florida spin on it," Le Clainche says. "It gets you up, ready to move."

Coffee growlers are starting to trickle into Broward. Warsaw Coffee Company and Sip Java Co., both in Fort Lauderdale, offer fills of their cold-brew coffee.

At the Blooming Bean in Pompano Beach, Sharon Stephenson named her cold-brew coffee Designated Driver after a funny observation. It was the only nonalcoholic drink served at Old Town Untapped, a monthly crawl of local breweries in the city.

After months as a kiosk within the east wing of Bailey Contemporary Arts, an art gallery and studio space in Pompano Beach, the Blooming Bean will re-launch Friday, Sept. 2, as a large café in the building. Stephenson says the beer crawl inspired the idea to serve Designated Driver as flights. There will be two styles: regular and nitrogen-infused.

"We'd already been building a following at Old Town Untapped, but flights are really the best way to try Designated for the first time," says Stephenson, of Pompano Beach.

Stephenson recently partnered with a Pompano Beach brewery, Bangin' Banjo, to offer Thanks a Latte Porter, brewed with a Blooming Bean coffee blend called Second Crack.

"We think of brewing coffee as an art form," Stephenson says. "It's complex.It's rich, like beer. Which is why we think coffee culture and beer culture go hand in hand."

Switchbox Coffee Roasters is open 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday at 3446 NE 12th Ave., in Oakland Park. Call 888-849-7269 or go to SwitchboxCoffee.com.

Pumphouse Coffee Roasters is open 9 a.m.-noon Monday-Thursday at 1095 Jupiter Park Drive, No. 4, in Jupiter. Call 561-379-9562 or go to PumphouseCoffeeRoasters.com.

Blooming Bean Coffee Company is open 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday starting Friday, Sept. 2, at 41 NE First St., in Pompano Beach. Call 954-295-2225 or go to BloomingBeanCoffee.com.

pvalys@southflorida.com or 954-356-4364

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