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Inside the charcoal coffee craze

The charcoal latte at Limitless Coffee & Tea.

Courtesy of Limitless Coffee & Tea / Instagram

The charcoal latte at Limitless Coffee & Tea.

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A dash of glitter and an abyss of smoky black froth swirls around in a glossy white mug accompanied by a delicate golden teaspoon. The fresh vanilla scent and the laughter of other customers creates a homey feeling.

That dash of glitter and abyss of smoky black froth aren’t the first things that come to mind when drinking coffee. For customers at Limitless Coffee & Tea, it’s the cup of Joe that can’t stop customers from coming in every day.

Limitless Coffee & Tea has four locations all in the heart of downtown Chicago. If it’s not obvious, they’re a café that sells artistic coffee, tea and pastries. The latte that would be considered their starchild is the charcoal latte. This piece of art isn’t complete without the added glitter, which is an additional 50 cents that most will shell out to get their Instagram- worthy photo or 10.

Charcoal-based products are starting to make their way to shelves for everything, from charcoal toothpaste to facemasks, and now decorative latte art. Most people like to take pictures of them and put them on social media. Many cafes around the country have jumped on the bandwagon and started making them. Instead of being warded off by the unusually pretty color and design, they keep drawing customers and coffee fanatics in. Rather than just making the latte look aesthetically pleasing, there are also some benefits to that dark, deep charcoal abyss.

According to WebMd, activated charcoal is used to treat poisonings, reduce intestinal gas, can prevent hangovers and lower cholesterol levels. It’s also used for healing wounds.

Amanda Kaplan is the marketing manager at Limitless Tea & Coffee. She said there are many benefits to adding charcoal to lattes.

“Activated charcoal works by trapping toxins and chemicals in the gut, preventing their absorption,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan also said the texture is porous, so it’s good for cleaning and whitening teeth, which explains why charcoal toothpaste has become a thing.

“It is our No. 1 Instagrammed drink, and people show the barista our Instagram when ordering,” Kaplan said.

When it comes to food allergies, there’s no concerns here because charcoal is beneficial for health and it’s a natural product. For those interested in grabbing a smoky black latte, the type of milk you use could alter the design of the latte.

“ Any milk tastes amazing with it,” Kaplan said. “But the easiest drink to do latte art with is whole milk.”Whole milk is denser than nonfat, almond or soy milk. The denser the milk, the better the latte art will turn out.

Kaplan couldn’t answer some questions, such as how it’s made, due to the company’s privacy policies, but the mystery behind it stirs up more excitement for customers.

For the lactose-intolerant and vegans of the Chicago area, don’t fret; they also have oat milk and almond milk at every location. Ana Diaz was one the many customers who stopped in for a charcoal latte. Diaz didn’t know what to expect because this was her first time ordering one.

“I’m almost scared to drink it,” Diaz said. “I know it’s not bad for me or anything, but I’ve never had one before and didn’t even know you could ingest charcoal like this.”

“Of course I took a hundred pictures

of it already, my cousin and I came here because we’ve been seeing a lot of pictures of these pretty lattes on the Instagram explore page and noticed that a lot of cafes sell them, so we found this one and wanted to give it a try,” Diaz said.

Diaz took a few sips of her latte. “I keep checking my teeth,” she said. “I feel like my lips and teeth are going to be glittery and black after this so next time I’ll bring a little toothbrush.”

Jenn Nowak has been to several cafes that serve charcoal and glitter lattes.

“I don’t really have a favorite and the taste is pretty standard to a vanilla latte, but I try to tell myself it’s a little healthier because of the benefits charcoal has,” Nowak said.

“I can see why the color and even the glitter is off-putting for some people, it’s like a visual thing and it makes them hesitant to drink it,” Nowak said.

“For first-timers, they might think, ‘Why am I eating art supplies?’ when they see the glitter,” Nowak said.

Nowak remembers she was hesitant the first time she had one.

“The first time I tried one I kept making my friends reassure me that they were safe to drink, not that they would know, it’s not like they’re baristas or anything but I won’t lie, I was thrown off at first,” Nowak said.

The latte itself doesn’t have an unusual taste like most would expect.

“I think the thing people don’t get is that it just tastes like vanilla,” Nowak said. “It doesn’t taste funny and I’m willing to spend like $7 for a latte every now and then just because it’s fun and much prettier than an average old latte at Starbucks or Peets.”

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