Why you should care
Because they’re healthy, delicious and oh-so-Instagrammable.
In 2014, food scientist Tahli Watts added her take on the golden latte (a blend of turmeric, black pepper and cinnamon) to the menu of her family’s health café in Melbourne, Australia. Within two years the drink had become so popular that the family sold the café and started a business selling off-the-shelf turmeric latte blends. Now, 18 months later, their company, Golden Grind, is going strong, with its products available in more than 800 cafés and shops worldwide.
Turmeric lattes are the splendid burnished flagship of a multicolored flotilla of so-called superfood lattes that appear set to infiltrate mainstream café menus around the world, riding on their über-healthy, lip-smackingly tasty and eminently Instagrammable credentials. It takes a true convert to get a kale smoothie down the hatch, but a warming beetroot, ginger and almond milk latte masquerading as a strawberry milkshake is a different prospect entirely.
Matcha is the reigning antioxidant king, but it can contain almost as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, so it’s not everyone’s idea of an afternoon beverage. Now, it has challengers. Superlattes made from turmeric, dried beetroot and South African rooibos espresso are caffeine-free, packed with antioxidants and delicious. The superlatte umbrella includes drinks made from more obscure — and sometimes harder to stomach — ingredients like chaga mushrooms, blue algae and charcoal, among others.
The ‘fad honeymoon period’ has passed with the café, and yet we are still full every day.
Sarah Holloway, owner, Matcha Mylkbar
Demand for the superlattes is growing fast, and Golden Grind’s expanding list of clients is only one pointer to the future. Red Espresso, the company that brought rooibos espresso to international attention, is seeing a 20 percent month-on-month growth in the firm’s superlatte range specifically, and a growing interest in its new U.S.-based online store, says its South African co-owner, Monique Ethelston. And Melbourne-based Sarah Holloway has gone from a career in corporate law to co-owning two superfood businesses, including Matcha Mylkbar, a café that has an off-the-shelf shop selling Matcha Maiden, Golden Grind and Teelixir mushroom powders.
“The fact that the ‘fad honeymoon period’ has passed with the café, and yet we are still full every day, is a good sign,” says Holloway.
Although the superlatte trend has its roots in the alternative-health fraternity on the U.S. West Coast, it has made its most significant inroads into mainstream culture in far-off Australia. There, both Watts and Holloway say, there’s no sign of the frenzy dropping off. Holloway chalks that up to Australians’ strong appetite for new flavors. The country’s population is small but progressive and open-minded, so “our uptake of trends tends to be faster,” says Holloway.
Of all the pretenders to the matcha throne, turmeric — used in ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and routinely mixed with warm milk as a remedy for colds and coughs in India — already has the largest footprint. Reasonably common in Australia, turmeric lattes are becoming more well-known in the U.S. and Europe. Yesheen Singh, a Cape Town–based medical doctor interested in plant-based medicine and nutrition, ascribes turmeric’s success to the wealth of research proving the spice’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powers. Peter Szymczak, the editor of Fresh Cup, a specialist magazine for coffee and tea professionals, describes the bright yellow color as “extremely impactful on an emotional level” and the taste as “satisfyingly bitter … somewhat similar to coffee.” Szymczak says he’s “seen people positively light up, almost a revelatory experience, when they try a turmeric latte for the first time.”
But Singh warns against hailing turmeric — or any ingredient for that matter — as a cure-all, especially if used wantonly. “In ayurvedic medicine you don’t just take the root and put it in a drink. … There’s a way to prepare it so that the body can open up and accept it,” he says. The drink needs fat content (Singh advises adding a teaspoon of coconut oil), and an ingredient like black pepper to “knock on the door of the cell receptors so that the turmeric can come in.”
Singh’s concerns extend beyond turmeric to all so-called superfoods. There’s no legislation saying what is and isn’t a superfood, but calling something a superfood has been proved to boost sales. Even if the marquee ingredient is of high quality and packed with antioxidants, Singh says, a bevy of preservatives, stabilizers and sweeteners can overshadow its positive effects. “The onus is always on the customer to ask: ‘What’s in my superlatte?’” says Singh. “‘And what else is coming along for the ride?’”
This involves reading the list of ingredients or asking the barista how she makes the drink, researching the product’s ORAC count (a measure of antioxidants) and insisting on a high-quality dairy alternative, such as almond or coconut milk.
Watts, Ethelston and Holloway, whose products all contain natural, high-quality ingredients and no artificial nasties, couldn’t agree more. Matcha, unicorn and turmeric lattes already feature on Starbucks menus, for example, but their unicorn latte swaps natural algae for “sour blue powder” and contains a whopping 59 grams of sugar. Holloway is concerned about “lower-quality, mass-produced versions undercutting the real deal without customers knowing the difference in quality,” though she recognizes that this is a challenge across products.
Major chains in Australia have started offering superfood lattes, says Watts, “but we would like to think people know the difference between a sugary blend at a major chain versus a decent health product being served for the right reasons at your local health-focused café.”
Either way, while some of the wackier iterations may come and go, the embrace of superlattes suggests they’re here to stay, in the café and at home.