Discourse Coffee's Channel Orange drink, made with espresso, smoked and oaked vanilla, candied orange powder, and more.
Discourse Coffee's Channel Orange drink, made with espresso, smoked and oaked vanilla, candied orange powder, and more. (Photo courtesy of Discourse Coffee/Allison Evans)

Started in Door County but now in Milwaukee, Discourse filters out the bland to create a wide combination of aromas, tastes, raised eyebrows and happy palates.

Ryan Castelaz had his epiphany while watching Netflix.

The New Berlin native grew up surrounded by Folgers coffee and chain restaurants, viewing food and drink as not something that could be used for artistic expression but instead as a means to fuel people through their day. It wasn’t until college, where he trained to be an opera singer or music teacher, that he fell in love with craft coffee—”as a necessity,” he said.

After college, Castelaz—for the first time without music as a constant creative outlet in his life—moved to Door County and found himself watching the cooking show “Chef’s Table,” in which world-class chefs provide demonstrations while sharing their backstories. 

That’s when things clicked. Castelaz realized he could combine his love for high-quality coffee with his need to create art, and in 2017, he opened Discourse Coffee, “a smash-bang fusion between a coffee shop and a craft cocktail bar” that moved last year to Milwaukee. 

“Coffee for so long has been the thing you do on the way to what you’re doing,” Castelaz said. “We really want, at Discourse, coffee to be the thing you do.”

The What Winter Forget drink at Discourse Coffee, a mixture of espresso, honey chai, chipotle cacao bitters, burnt orange peel, and more. (Photo courtesy of Discourse Coffee/Matt Sampson)

Discourse puts mad-scientist coffee chemistry front and center, incorporating ingredients ranging from sweet potato puree to a pork fat-caramel combination or sous vide-brewed coffee to create unique experiences utilizing as many aromas, tastes, and sensations as possible. The goal, Castelaz said, is to tell stories with each cup he serves from his ever-rotating drink menu.

Discourse Coffee Operations Director Sean Liu, left, and owner Ryan Castelaz bring a craft cocktail lounge-style approach to their mad-scientist coffee creations. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

One of Castelaz’s favorite drinks Discourse ever developed—and one most emblematic of his willingness to go well outside the bounds of traditional coffee—was the Holy Pin, part of a classic film-themed menu and inspired by “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” 

Castelaz wondered what sort of liquid the brave Knights of the Roundtable may have found inside the grail if they did indeed find it. 

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His answer: The Holy Pin started with a mock-Lambrusco wine base using grape juice, grape skins, french oak, and different roots; he combined that with sous vide coffee and smoked vanilla, topping it with a frozen “Holy Hand Grenade” made of coconut water. The glass was served on a platform surrounded by elderberries, moss, and dry ice. 

Discourse Coffee’s Holy Pin coffee drink, inspired by “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” The creation mixed mock-Lambrusco wine with sous vide coffee and a coconut water “ice grenade” and was served on a platform decorated with moss and elderberries. (Photo courtesy of Discourse Coffee/Allison Evans)

“Really what we’re doing is we’re building stories and we’re using the principles of taste and presentation and aroma and texture to tell that story,” Castelaz said. “And so what we’re looking for really depends on what story we’re telling.”

The shop took off after a feature on the popular “Wisconsin Foodie,” and Discourse became a go-to for the tourists who flock to Door County. In 2021, Castelaz decided it was time to take Discourse to a larger market, so he moved the business to Milwaukee, where he held pop-up events until recently landing a permanent spot in the city’s Crossroads Collective micro-restaurant collection.

The Parisian craft coffee drink at Discourse Coffee, a mix of matcha tea, blueberry, mango, passionfruit, and lime, garnished with lime zest and a blackberry. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Discourse has received a warm welcome in its new home, Castelaz said.

“I think people really love that, because they can feel the passion, they can feel the story, they can feel the care that we put into these drinks,” he said.