By Matt Starlight
Described by the staff as the most representative drink they have to offer, the Old World Toffee latte graces the first spot on the menu at Strands Cafe on Laurel Street. It’s easy to see that the drink is a crowd pleaser: nearly half the patrons are sipping it. Foamy and warm, the flagship beverage dances on the tip of the tongue, but doesn’t impose its will on your palate. In that respect, it mimics the cafe itself. Quiet, but not awkward. Interesting, but not hipster. Active, but not hectic.
The barista, Caroline, could tell you that this is a family establishment, but you can see and taste it yourself without the primer. What appear to be generations of staff crafting orders and clearing tables makes it (pardon the cliché) seem homey. Interesting pieces of art adorn the bare brick wall to give plenty to eyeball apart from the smartphone in your hand. It would surprise me if none of it was made by the family themselves.
The Old World Toffee latte is served in a tall glass mug with foam covering the inner rim completely like a thick coat of paint as you get closer to the bottom. You can easily taste the toffee syrup that’s made in house, but it isn’t just for toffee lovers. On the surface, it’s a frothy coffee drink perfect for an early morning or a chilly afternoon, but detecting the difference between coffee here and somewhere else is like tasting the difference between pre-ground and whole bean. The drink doesn’t demand your attention, and in the way it’s a great choice. Like an actor lost in a character, you really have to look to find the puppet strings pulling at the flavor; what you do notice is that warm feeling a creamy latte aims to bring. It kindly relegates your attention to whatever it is you’re focused on, and is happy to play a subtle part in making your day a little better.
Strands Cafe isn’t reinventing coffee, just doing it better than most.