Keep cool with our local guide to cold beverages
story by Jesse Piersol | photos by Courtney Potts
July served up some seriously steamy temperatures, so we sent our writers out on a mission to make the rounds in search of the coolest drinks in the borough. We’re not talking cocktails here — it’s swimsuit season after all, so who needs the extra calories? We’re talking libations that both look and feel refreshing, and keep you hydrated in these higher temps. From juices and iced lattés to cocktail-inspired spritzers, we’ve assembled a list of must-try beverages that are just perfect for the dog days of August.
When I duck into the Liquid Eatery, I’m thinking ahead — specifically, to the gym workout that is waiting for me after this outing. Owner Evan Ross has the perfect drink for me, which he prepares and then splits between two mason jars for us to share while we talk.
The Liquid Eatery is Evan’s vision for a sustainable, ethical, low-impact business, one that serves liquids in any form they can be served frozen, blended, or as smoothies. He became a vegan while living in South Beach and brought that focus on nutrition back when he returned to West Chester. Everything is made fresh with natural, healthy ingredients.
The Drink: Blueberry Blitz
The Blueberry Blitz contains nothing refined or processed, just a protein mix called “Orgain” comprised of organic protein, pea, quinoa, brown rice protein, and vanilla flavor, along with a full serving of fruit from blueberries and another from bananas. “It’s a very light smoothie for sustained energy,” says Evan. “Nothing to weigh you down.” For a smoothie, the Blitz is quite drinkable, a little more toothsome than straight juice but still refreshing and hydrating, with a festive purple hue.
Everything at Liquid Eatery is vegan and gluten free. “People come in here with family and they say ‘Oh, I can eat everything here. That’s neat,’” says Evan.
West Chester’s newest coffee shop builds on the reputation of Gryphon’s other two locations in Philly and Wayne. Gryphon did a soft opening on June 20 of this year in the space formerly occupied by The Mad Platter, which was particularly meaningful for co-owner Len Mojzes. “I’d been shopping there since I was eight years old,” he says. “It was an emotional realization, but one that felt right.”
As beloved as his favorite record store was, he acknowledges that the location was a bit of a “cave,” presenting challenges for making it warm and appealing while still honoring its legacy. “These are original floors,” he points out, “and the exposed brick and skylights were already here. We opened it up with a glass front, but otherwise, we tried to follow the original building.”
The Drink: Lavender Lemonade
The handcrafted aspect of Gryphon’s lavender lemonade sets it apart. “We steep lavender flowers to make a sugar syrup,” says Len. “It’s an excellent addition to lattes, too.” Fresh lemons and organic sugar complete Gryphon’s spin on a summertime classic.
Gryphon favors simple, natural flavors, a preference reflected in their syrup offerings that include local maple syrup and honey, while eschewing trendy concoctions such as blueberry or mojito.
You might find a more expansive menu elsewhere, and that’s on purpose. “When you spread yourself too thin, with too many offerings, you can’t get really good at anything,” he explains. “We focus on a smaller menu of really high-quality choices.”
A stroll around WCU’s campus during the summer has a mellow, very different vibe than the school year, and student-run Saxbys, with its bank of glass windows facing the Academic Quad just across the street, offers a quiet place to, well, chill. Whether you perch on a stool at one of the long, shared tables or melt into an armchair in a private nook, you’ll probably have the place to yourself, so bring your laptop and be productive while you’re here.
The Drink: Philly House Punch
Philly House Punch is green tea combined with peach and bourbon extracts, served over ice with a fresh lemon wheel. Until my first sip of this drink, I never realized that bourbon and green tea share a similar earthy flavor undercurrent, one that is marvelous over ice, with the peach extract offering a sweet counterpoint.
Available exclusively during the summer months, Philly House Punch is part of Saxbys “Free Spirit Collection,” a trio of non-alcoholic, boozy-themed iced beverages that also includes Espresso Tonic and Sangria Spritzer.
Not only is Philly House Punch popular, some customers can’t get enough, according to barista Asyra Francis, who recalls a recent patron who ordered the drink, gulped it down, and promptly returned to the counter for another.
Looking for a novel start or end to your visit to downtown West Chester? Stop by Tranquilitea, where you can sit on a cushion at a low table in the front window to see or be seen while owner John Stuligross assembles bubble tea for you.
The Drink: Taro Milk Bubble Tea
John explains that bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s as an iced dessert drink. It is made with non-dairy creamer, which imparts a creamier taste than its dairy counterpart, and sweetened with cane sugar. At the bottom of the cup is a layer of tiny black tapioca pearls (yes, the same used in tapioca pudding, but a black variety). An oversized straw allows the orbs to be drawn up through it along with the liquid.
My taro tea is a lovely lavender color with a subtle graham cracker flavor; the creamy liquid combined with chewy tapioca pearls provides a delightfully unexpected texture.
Bubble tea can be brewed with any of the loose-leaf teas available here, including flavored varieties like coconut, matcha, strawberry, mango, lychee, and the taro root variety John chose for me.
For the kids (or anyone looking for a fun twist), bubble tea can also be made with “popping bubbles,” gelatin beads filled with sweet lychee juice that pop in your mouth.
Although Dia Doce gained fame for their artisan cupcakes, you’ll find an assortment of unique liquid refreshments int he coffee shop the owners opened, too. “Today it’s 104 degrees, so you want something that isn’t overwhelming,” asserts manager Abbie Smith as she slides a beverage across the bar to me. “This is light and won’t weigh you down.”
The Drink: Blueberry Mojito Limeade
Each summer brings a new spin on classic lemonade at Cathey’s Coffee Bar, with additions based on whatever is growing that season. This year, it’s a simple syrup crafted from blueberries right out of the garden at owner Thais da Silva Viggue’s house, along with her mint.
With its soft lilac hue, Blueberry Mojito Limeade evokes breezy afternoons spent on a Chester County patio, and the flavor doesn’t disappoint. Fresh mint flecks float in the mix of bright lemon and lime flavors, making this sweet-tart iced concoction a potent antidote for hot and humid days.
Its fresh, grownup flavor invites mixing, too. “One customer asked if it contains alcohol, but it’s virgin,” says Abbie. “Another customer asked me to leave some room in it, because she was taking it home to make a cocktail.”
When Jaco opened six years ago this September, they were the first juice and smoothie bar in town. Since then, they’ve built up a loyal client base and staff. “We’re a little bit of healthy, with a little bit of comfort food mixed in,” says Manager Sophie DelVescovo, whose family owns all three of Jaco’s locations, in West Chester, Media and Georgetown.
The Drink: The Stalker
One of their newest offerings, The Stalker blends celery, ginger, and lemon juice for a potent infusion of anti-inflammatory compounds, including vitamins K and C, potassium, folate, manganese, calcium, riboflavin and magnesium.
The Stalker starts with a smooth celery vibe and finishes with pleasingly tart remnants of lemon and spicy ginger. Definitely not sweet, The Stalker gets its refreshing qualities from celery’s high water content, while electrolytes help stave off dehydration. The Stalker makes an excellent addition to your daily diet.
Another crowd pleaser is Jaco’s watermelon juice. A combination of watermelon, mint and coconut water, this exclusive pink cooler isn’t even on the menu, and is only offered in the summertime.
“We try to mix it up and make them a little different. Everything here is made with love,” Sophie says. “The scene here is very personable. Knowing who makes your drink for you makes it a little more special.”
One of six locations, with the others in New York, this spot has been open for about a year and serves up juices, smoothies, and acai bowls. On hot days, you might even see Bango employees circulating around town with a sample tray.
“All ingredients are fresh and handmade, with some organic,” says assistant manager Justine Davis. “We also have special options for kids, soy-free ones, and vegan ones.”
The Drink: Extreme Green
Justine gives the nod to the Extreme Green smoothie as Bango’s most refreshing option, featuring pineapple, kale, mango, chia seeds, and soymilk. “A lot of people expect it to taste leafy, but it’s doesn’t,” she says. “It’s creamy and slightly sweet.”
I agree. The creaminess of the soy milk really evens out the tart sweetness of the mango and pineapple. The consistency is thick like a milkshake, with a light mint green color, and flecks of green kale and chia seeds pepper its frozen custardy goodness.
Justine also mentions the Bango Mango, a sweet combination of banana, pineapple, mango, and orange juice, as a popular option with kids.
Appalachian Brewing Company has occupied this space since August of last year, and if you haven’t been in to visit yet, you’ll find the front bar and endearing exposed brick walls still there, remnants from its former life as entertainment venue The Note and Boxcar Brewing Company, although the stage has been replaced by a flat screen TV.
When server Danielle Pouleres finds out that I’m touring West Chester on a cold beverage crawl, she can’t wait to have me weigh in on their root beer and promptly brings over both a pint glass filled from the tap and a glass bottle so I can compare.
The Drink: Root Beer
The sharp sweetness of a classic root beer, which comes from a combination of cane sugar and honey, cuts through the thickness of a sultry Friday afternoon. The draft version at ABC is a touch sweeter than the bottled one and definitely smoother, with the extra fizziness of the bottled amplifying the less-sweet bite. I also detected a more pronounced vanilla flavor in the draft, which is barely perceptible in the bottled option.
ABC’s root beer is brewed and bottled at their company headquarters up in Harrisburg. Danielle points out that it’s a great starting point for a root beer float, which is how many ABC customers finish — and sometimes start, bless them — their meal here. My verdict? Thirst quenching all around.
Crew member Anna Amalfitano says that on Friday and Saturday nights, the line into West Chester Coffee and Ice Cream Bar stretches around the corner beyond Lorenzo’s from 7pm until closing at 11pm. Customers stop by after dinner for a coffee or ice cream from one of three vendors, including Graeters from Cincinnati.
The Drink: Iced Caramel Latte
Shift leader Josh McGonigle makes me an iced caramel latte, featuring a shot of espresso, whole milk, and a pump of caramel simple syrup. The latte features dark-roast Nizza espresso from Fishtown’s La Colombe roaster, and the result is ice cream-creamy and delicious, with Nizza’s bold, smoky presence lending a bit of gravitas to the caramel’s charming whimsy. I nursed this latte for the better part of an hour during a drenching rainstorm and even with the last sip, never found the sweetness overwhelming, a common objection of mine for almost every sweetened beverage I try.
Not in a coffee mood? Try one of their other options: Boylan Bottling Co.’s sodas, including lemon seltzer, cane cola, and cream soda, all made with cane sugar.
Walk through the door here and it’s summer: feel the bright turquoise walls, corrugated steel ceiling, surfboards, and island art whisk you away to the sunny surf spot that was the inspiration for Playa Bowls’ original location in Belmar, New Jersey. The 65 location-strong acai-bowl chain opened their West Chester location in November of last year.
The Drink: Mermaid Fuel
One of Playa’s most popular offerings, Mermaid Fuel gets an edgy sweetness from pineapple and apple juice, with a refreshing note from mint. A smattering of kale is in there somewhere, but (thankfully) obscured by the other flavors. It’s frothy and green, tingly sweet with a sweet-tart bite from the pineapple juice. I loved the bold minty presence.
In addition to Mermaid Fuel, manager Maddie Huber is also a fan of the Aloha smoothie, a cross between a smoothie and a juice, and is comprised of banana, mango, pineapple, and coconut milk. Playa also offers seasonal specials including a mango pina colada smoothie that consists of a coconut base, pineapple, mango, and coconut milk.
Their offerings are mostly vegan, except for some of their protein options, and Nutella. All menu items are largely gluten free as well, including options for granola. “We try to accommodate everybody,” notes Maddie.