Sea Salt Latte: Is 85C The Next Coffee Craze? The coffee company from Taiwan hopes to teach Americans to love marbled taro and iced sea salt lattes. Each store in the 85C chain also includes a bakery. A crossover hit is black squid-ink bread, made with Vermont sharp cheddar cheese and garlic paste.
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Sea Salt Latte: Is 85C The Next Coffee Craze?

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Sea Salt Latte: Is 85C The Next Coffee Craze?

Sea Salt Latte: Is 85C The Next Coffee Craze?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Europeans aren't the only ones looking to export their way to better times. A company from Taiwan wants to export coffee, and some of the culture that comes with it. The company is called 85C. Its owners say 85 degrees Celsius - that's most of the way to boiling - is the best temperature for coffee. The company is betting that Americans will want some exotic pastry too for example, a squid ink bun, with their coffee.

NPR's Neda Ulaby went to check out 85C's test location at Irvine, California, where the company is working out the kinks before it expands.

NEDA ULABY: One of the top sellers here at the flagship 85C: iced sea salt lattes.

Unidentified Woman: (Unintelligible) ice or is it hot?

Ms. STEPHANIE PENG (Manager, 85C): It's only ice. Only ice.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, okay.

Ms. PENG: Okay. Yeah. (Unintelligible)

ULABY: It sounds exotic, but the salt flavor is incredibly subtle. You have to tease it out with your tongue.

Ms. PENG: It's really unique. Like, the sea salt's actually in like the cream, the foam part, so it just brings in more coffee essence.

ULABY: Manager Stephanie Peng is 24 years old. Orange County bred and born, she's charged with helping the company appeal to U.S. palettes. Peng's worked with chefs to tweak the 85C menu.

Ms. PENG: We made it a little bit sweeter here, a little bit saltier here -more flavor, actually.

ULABY: Unlike Starbucks, 85C is also a bustling, high-powered bakery. Workers with trays of fragrant golden rolls burst from the kitchen every few minutes. Bread and coffee might not sound typically Taiwanese, but the food reflects our global era.

Some soft buns come stuffed with red bean paste or dried pork, blueberries or hot dogs.

Ms. JULIA HUANG (CEO, Intertrend Communications): Squid bread.

ULABY: I'm sorry. What is this?

Ms. HUANG: This is squid-ink bread.

ULABY: That's Julia Huang. She says because each item costs less than a dollar, there is an incentive to stray outside your flavor comfort zone. Huang tracks Asian trends in the U.S. and she thinks 85C could gain real traction in the U.S. market.

Ms. HUANG: For some reason, the past four or five years, the American tastes in terms of - and you know, we're not talking about cuisine, we're talking about snacks - comfort food has changed so much.

ULABY: Now, in my Midwestern upbringing, comfort food was generally not the same color as Barney.

Ms. HUANG: That is a very purple roll.

Ms. PENG: Marbled taro is actually one of our top sellers. We make our own taro filling, really soft, really flaky. Customers love it.

ULABY: I was skeptical, but a full week later I'm still craving another very purple taro roll.

85C's manager says when the store first opened, most of the customers were Asian. Now it's 50-50.

Catalina Jimenez is from Spain. She works in finance and she waits in 85C's line at lunch for half an hour. How often?

Ms. CATALINA JIMENEZ: Every day or every other day. It's horrible. When it first opened, I would see the crowds outside. I'm like oh my god, everybody's just losers waiting for the pastries - and there I am, the biggest loser. I come and I do the line every day.

ULABY: Another 85C regular is Abraham Walker, a South African native who never expected to enjoy Taiwanese coffee and cake in the U.S.

Mr. ABRAHAM WALKER: Very light and fluffy, you know, not thick and heavy. Quite honestly, I wouldn't mind having a share in this business. It's busy all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ULABY: Walker may get his chance. 85C goes public later this year, right around the planned opening of its second California store. A national expansion is in the works.

When I caught(ph) an executive in Taiwan on the phone, she joked the ultimate dream would be opening an 85C across the street from a Starbucks in Seattle. Then she paused. That would also be an honor, she said.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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