It was 2017 when Milwaukee barista Ryan Castelaz took a leap and opened Discourse, an experimental coffee bar in Door County which aimed to push the culinary boundaries of coffee while taking guests on an experiential flavor journey.
After a four-year run, Castelaz will be bringing the Discourse concept home to the Cream City, relaunching the brand with a series of local pop-ups.
The pop-ups, which will take place during the first and third weekends of each month, are slated to begin the weekend of July 23 at Two Trees, 5625 W. Wells St., a space created to function as a community hub for pop-up shops.
The move to MKE
Castelaz says that, while he loved the idea of launching the concept in Door County, it was tough to subsist with a seasonal business.
“We had a really solid customer base, but it was largely made up of people who didn’t live there,” he says. “Housing is impossible to find during tourist season, and it’s difficult to attract and retain talent. We needed people who learned quickly, could think on their feet and really perform. So, to find and train new people every year was a truly exhausting process.”
But he says he’s had his eyes on Milwaukee for quite some time.
“Not only am I super excited to be coming home, but I’m really excited to share all the things that I’ve learned over the past few years. Door County was my training ground, and I feel like now I truly have something to contribute to the city’s great coffee and beverage scene.”
The pop-ups, he says, will be executed with the help of partner and director of coffee Olivia Molter, a local artist and experienced barista whose work has included time at both Wonderstate (now Likewise) and Interval.
“She’s enormously talented,” he says, “I’m bringing this really funkadelic mindset and creative direction to the table. But, she brings amazing technical knowledge. She has a great palate, and she is an absolute machine when it comes to being able to deliver really high quality drinks. At the same time, we both share very similar beliefs about how coffee should be presented and what the customer experience should look like.”
Thanks to the pandemic, an increasing number of people have learned to brew good coffee at home, says Castelaz. As a result, he says the notion of a coffee shop has to be something more.
“Coffee shops can no longer be just provisional places,” he says. “We have to deliver more. We need to give guests something special, memorable… something that makes it worth their time to go out of the house in the first place, and then come back again and again.”
That philosophy has shaped the goals for what Discourse in Milwaukee looks like. Alongside Molter, he says, they will offer a menu of drinks that naturally divides itself into two parts: Craft (expertly made standards and Discourse classics) and Art (experimental items that take a bit longer to prepare).
“The Craft section is for people who love coffee or who maybe want to try something a bit different,” he says “Art is for people who might have a bit more time, who want to explore the boundaries with us.”
Castelez says their goal is to showcase coffees that haven’t yet made it to the Milwaukee market. Examples include Road Trip from Methodical Coffee (Greenville, South Carolina), a coffee he calls “mind blowing and ripe with passion fruit flavor;” and Columbia Monte Verde from Picacho Coffee Roasters (Santa Fe, New Mexico), a brew that’s “expressive and wonderful with big strawberry and black pepper flavors.”
He says all coffee at the pop-ups will be brewed via a sous-vide method, a technique Castelaz credits with allowing an enormous amount of control over a coffee’s flavor profile (thanks to the ability to control the temperature at which it is brewed), as well as the freedom to extract various flavor profiles through the manipulation of brewing time.
The method also allows extreme efficiency. Cold coffee can be served as-is, while hot coffee can be easily heated with a steamer wand, a tool which also aerates the brew, accentuating subtle nuances in the flavor.
Castelaz says that once the pop-ups get going, he hopes to bring back the Discourse Omakase series: small, intimate experiences for up to 24 people that explore coffee through a variety of themes.
“The events will offer guests maybe five or six of the wildest beverages we can muster,” he says, “And all will be created under a central theme.”
Omakase sessions would be held on the first and third Sundays of the month, he says, after cafe hours, with the first starting as soon as August. Currently, he says, the first round would likely focus on a study of aromatics through the lens of the perfume industry.
Castelaz says the ultimate goal of the pop-ups is to introduce the Discourse concept to a larger portion of the Milwaukee market, eventually making a thoughtful and strategic transition to a full-time brick and mortar location.
The Discourse pop-ups will launch the weekend of July 23 with hours Friday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. From there, pop-ups will be held the first and third weekends of each month.
This article was updated on June 18, 2021 to reflect a revised opening date for the Discourse pop-up series.
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.