Sophie Bolich

Discourse Coffee Opens Cafe at MSOE

This is the third Milwaukee location for the experimental coffee shop.

By - Aug 19th, 2022 11:39 am
Olivia Molter, Ryan Castelaz and Sean Liu of Discourse. Photo courtesy of Ryan Castelaz

Olivia Molter, Ryan Castelaz and Sean Liu of Discourse. Photo courtesy of Ryan Castelaz

Change is brewing at Discourse Coffee.

Since relocating from Sister Bay to Milwaukee in 2021, the cafe has been shaking up the city’s caffeine scene with imaginative, experimental drinks–first as a pop-up then with a residency at the Milwaukee Art Museum. In February, the cafe moved into a brick-and-mortar location at Crossroads Collective, the East Side food hall.

The cafe is poised to expand again. The latest location, Discourse – Downtown, at 1020 N. Broadway is expected to open in September at the Direct Supply Innovation and Technology Center (ITC) on the Milwaukee School of Engineering campus. The ITC is where Direct Supply develops new technology for senior living communities.

The 55,000-square-foot building, which features high, arched windows and whimsical decor including a grass-covered bench, repurposed tractor trailer and life-size Mario warp pipe, couldn’t be better suited to the eclectic vibe of the cafe.

Founder Ryan Castelaz and partners Sean Liu and Olivia Molter, searched for more than 18 months before landing on the ITC space, said a Facebook post from the cafe.

“It’s like our old location but all grown up,” Castelaz said, who opened the first Discourse in Sister Bay in 2017, before relocating the business to his hometown, Milwaukee.

Since its start, Discourse has strived to reimagine the typical coffee experience.

“The menu is really where I come alive,” said Castelaz, who has dreamed up cafe-favorites like Moonwater, a latte made with espresso, honey, applewood smoked sea salt, ceylon cinnamon and black pepper.

Many of Castelaz’s recipes are inspired by daily life, he said. Narrative drink making, as he calls it, is a way of translating stories and experiences through the creation of drinks.

Similar to its other locations, Discourse – Downtown will maintain a small, hyper-seasonal menu. But instead of changing the menu quarterly for summer, fall, winter and spring, a new slate of drinks will be released monthly.

“This will enable us to use ingredients and services that are maybe only around for a month,” he said.

In September, guests can look forward to the ElMocha, so named for its red hue, an espresso drink with sherry and orange roasted beets, blackberry, balsamic, hazelnuts and dark chocolate with whole milk. The Clyde, inspired by the infamous robber, is an iced drink including Metolius chai concentrate, mango juice, tamarind concentrate, nutmeg, oat milk and optional espresso. The cafe will also offer its own take on the ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte.

Discourse – Downtown will also launch “a growing food program,” Castelaz said. The cafe will start with a cold kitchen, offering grab-and-go options. From there, Castelaz said he hopes to eventually add a hot kitchen and in-house bakery.

The ITC that will house Discourse – Downtown was formerly the German-English Academy. MSOE used the building on and off for several decades before it was redeveloped for use by Direct Supply in 2019.

As part of the redevelopment, Bob Hillis, CEO of Direct Supply, requested that the space contain a public facing cafe so that members of the Milwaukee public could interact with company employees. Discourse – Downtown would fill that role.

“It’s a really big opportunity for us to actually welcome the people who have been supporting us over these last six months into a place that feels more like home,” Castelaz said.

The space will hold up to 4o guests and feature a wide variety of seating options including traditional tables and barstools, plus more unusual options like plush lounge chairs and deep, cozy window bays, Castelaz said.

“We’ve really tried to consider not only [customers who] come here and meet with a friend, but also [customers who] come here to just lounge, have a place to be,” he said.

When Discourse – Downtown opens, the cafe and its seating will be open to the public. The Direct Supply campus space will only be open to employees.

Once open, Discourse – Downtown would have hours Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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