We’ve all had “third wave coffee” (trust us, you have) but how do you build on a cappuccino with grass-fed cream-top milk and heart-shaped foam art? The owners of Voyager Craft Coffee in Santa Clara, Sam Shah and Lauren Burns, think they have an answer: unusual flavor pairings and homemade ingredients on a base of top-notch beans. These are not your average cups of joe.
“We love craft cocktails and craft beer, and thought, ‘Why not craft coffee?’” explains Shah, a former management consultant who decided to ditch the corporate world two years ago and team up with Burns, his girlfriend. Burns brought both coffee and business expertise: she pulled shots through college and grad school before starting Snowy Awesome, a shaved ice pop up in Salt Lake City.
“Before we decided to do this, we wanted to make sure we’re doing something different,” says Shah. The two started with a mobile cart to test their concept and struggled early on. At the charity bike race Tour De Cure in San Jose, Voyager’s cart was placed directly across from the free coffee being given out to racers. They sold no coffee the entire time they were there.
Taking a mixologist approach to coffee
Shah and Burns began finding success at farmers markets and offices where they were able to establish repeat customers. “Our regulars stopped going to their go-to coffee shops days we’d be close by. We knew we were making people happy, and that became a drug for us that we became addicted to,” says Burns.
When the opportunity for a more permanent storefront presented itself last August, the couple plunged in. Voyager opened its doors on Stevens Creek Blvd in Santa Clara last September.
You can still grab a well-made macchiato at Voyager Coffee, but you might try a Valencia ($4.90 — with coconut milk, pure vanilla extract, and evaporated orange blossom water) or a Bali ($4.90 — with coconut milk that adds honey for sweetness and cayenne for a kick).
The pair gets the traditionalist thing but they embrace a mixologist approach. “We’re staying true to the taste of coffee and the emphasis is still on quality,” Shah says. “We just like getting creative.”
We knew we were making people happy, and that became a drug for us that we became addicted to.
All the ingredients for their craft drinks are either created in-house (like orange blossom water in the Valencia and reduced bourbon in the Savannah) or purchased from local markets. And all four specialty drinks (and counting) are named after places that Shah and Burns have visited.
“The idea for the Santiago came from my trip along the Calle de Santiago in Spain. We would eat churros and dip them in this spicy chocolate,” Burns explains. “That’s why we added cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne to the Santiago [a mocha-based drink]. We wanted to stay true to that experience.”
Taping into their creative sides
Creativity can sometimes leave a sour taste: the coffee couple has tried, and failed, some out-there creations. The sushi latte for instance, a tribute to the pair’s time in Japan, was a mix of wasabi, soy sauce and ginger that didn’t make the cut. “It was something out of a nightmare,” Shah remembers. “I’m not sure there are adequate words to describe it, but it tasted like how I’d imagine last month’s sushi would if it were left out the entire time.”
A soul food-inspired coffee didn’t make it either.
Customers seem to be digging the craft creations that do make the cut: sales since their opening last September are almost evenly split between classic drinks (americanos, cappuccinos, lattes, etc.) and Voyager’s specialty drinks.
It was something out of a nightmare… it tasted like how I’d imagine last month’s sushi would if it were left out the entire time.
Shah also believes that Voyager’s craft drinks are a spark of creativity that’s needed on the Peninsula. “A lot of people think they gotta get out of here at some point and move to a city, like SF,” Shah explains. “I want people to stop thinking that. [Craft coffee] is our way influencing that kind of change.”
// Voyager Craft Coffee // 3985 Stevens Creek Blvd, Santa Clara // Everyday 7am-7pm //
Not in Santa Clara, but still in the mood to try something new? Here’s three more spots on the Peninsula making peculiar coffee creations:
Half running store, half specialty coffee shop, ZombieRunner isn’t afraid to get weird with their menu. Zombie Proof Coffee ($5) is their take on a Bullet Proof, a combination of cold brewed coffee, milk, and coconut oil all steamed together for a frothy cup of caffeinated goodness.
Want to get even crazier? Go for the Nitro Cold Brew with Hops ($6) or the Zombie Likes Licorice, a mix of cold brew coffee, milk, and sweet or salty licorice, served hot or cold. When asked what inspired the licorice coffee creations, owner Don Lundell said, “Licorice has been in my blood since before I was born.”
// ZombieRunner // 429 S California Ave, Palo Alto // Everyday 8am-5pm //
Best known for their bacon maple bars and hash brunch specials, Apple Fritter’s creative coffee program shouldn’t be overlooked. Why get a latte when you can have a salted caramel latte ($4.05)? And mocha’s just won’t be the same after you’ve had their Mayan Mexican Spiced Moka ($4.05).
// 1901 S Norfolk St, San Mateo // Mon-Thurs 6:30am-3pm, Friday 6:30am-830pm, Sat-Sun 6:30am-3pm //
Dana Street Roasting Company
A Mountain View favorite for over 20 years, Dana Street keeps things fresh with a long list of specialty drinks. A couple of our favorites include the Irish Cream Latte ($3.35) and the Banana Mocha ($3.85).
// Dana Street Roasting Company // 744 W Dana St, Mountain View // Mon 6:30am-5pm, Tues-Fri 6:30am-6pm, Sat 8am-10pm, Sun 8am-5pm//