Move over Pumpkin Spice, there's a new coffee flavor in town: Banana milk coffee is a a slightly sweet, cold beverage served at J+B Design & Cafe in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It sits somewhere on the spectrum between an iced coffee with milk and a flavored latte — mildly fruity with an added shot of potassium. It's delicious, and it's something you should try now.
What is banana milk coffee?
The concept is simple. It's cold brew coffee topped with a blend of milk, banana, and a splash of simple syrup. To make it, J+B's manager Fumio Tashiro blends an entire, very ripe banana with a scant cup of milk and a bit of simple syrup until the texture of the banana is no longer discernible. He then pours it over a strong cup of New Orleans-style cold brew, made Japanese-style.
The coffee itself isn't anything special; he uses a NY-based wholesale brand that's widely available. But the combination is something magical. It's milky and somewhat sweet, and while it doesn’t explicitly taste like banana, the banana adds a hearty layer to balance out the coffee’s acidity in a way that a typical milk-and-cold-brew combo lacks. If you don't love bananas, you may still dig it. If you love cold brew and bananas, you will definitely dig it.
When you ask Tashiro what it tastes like, he tells you that it's like a milkshake. It's not, really. Milkshakes — which tend to be rich, very sweet, and thick from ice cream — can be a heavy lift to drink, especially for breakfast; they're more dessert than beverage. Banana milk coffee, on the other hand, is as easy to drink as a latte. (Plus, bananas are healthy!) Banana milk coffee, at $5 a pop, also goes down easier than the milkshake's coffee-flavored cousin, the Starbucks Frappuccino, or the banana and coffee smoothies that smoothie spots and gym juice bars occasionally sell.
Of course, it does feel slightly more indulgent than a plain, black cold brew. And that's what makes it great.
Why is it a thing now?
The proliferation of serious coffee shops across the country means entrepreneurial baristas are constantly reaching for new ways to stand out from the crowd. Novel takes on lattes, coffee smoothies, brewing methods, infusions, and the like pop up all the time. See also: coffee lemonade.
Tashiro, a professional bassist from Japan who’s worked at the Brooklyn shop since it opened two years ago, says he created J+B’s concoction himself. The cafe at 300 7th St. is on a mostly residential street, and he was trying to figure out a way to attract more people. He read an article about Brazilians making beverages with bananas (he couldn’t remember where or what) and decided to experiment. "It’s quiet. Traffic is not so great," he says. "I was trying to create something new."
It’s been on the menu for about a year, and people didn’t really started ordering it until a couple months ago. "I think it was too strange to people," he says. But then a few people ordered it, and a few more, and now people are talking about it. Tashiro says he now sells about 50 a week.
Banana milk on its own is uncommon but not unheard of. Blending bananas with water has been touted as a creamy, frothy vegan alternative to milk. A South Korean company called Binggrae produces a packaged banana flavored milk, as does Denver-based company WhiteWaveFoods. A new company packages a vegan version that it's calling banana milk.
It's also not out of the ordinary to find homespun recipes that involve coffee and bananas. A couple of easy-to-find recipes include banana, coffee, and milk or ice cream as a blended beverage, though none of them are quite like the one at J+B.
Still, for some reason, J+B appears to be the first shop slinging banana milk over iced coffee. But with a simple recipe, addictive flavor, and extra boost of vitamins, banana milk coffee is a drink that's ripe for nationwide popularity. Will it be Starbucks' next seasonal beverage? Will it inspire a Pumpkin Spice-like frenzy? Tashiro isn't looking for fame, he just wants to serve his neighborhood good, interesting coffee drinks. "I experimented," he says. "And it worked."
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