Is there anything better than sipping a giant mug of hot coffee and enjoying a pile of fluffy pancakes? Let me answer that for you: There isn't. There's just something special about washing down a bite of sweet, buttery flapjacks with sharp, strong coffee—beauty and the bitter. Fortunately for us though, you really can have it all, in one slightly-doctored cup of coffee that tastes like pancakes. Bon Appetit caught up with Durham, North Carolina's own Lem Butler, a barista trainer and wholesale customer support representative at Counter Culture headquarters, who happens to be the winner of the 2016 United States Barista Championship. Also a five-time Southeast Regional Barista Competition champ, Butler is one of the most decorated competitive baristas ever.
For Butler, the secret to his success is in the sauce. Or rather—in the syrup. To compete in the U.S. Barista Championship, competitors present three drinks to the judges: an espresso, a cappuccino, and a signature drink. For his signature drink, Butler brewed a nitro version of Finca Nuguo, a Panamanian-grown Ethiopian Gesha varietal, and added lemongrass and a homemade magnolia and hibiscus simple syrup. Clearly, it was a winning combination. But according to Butler, syrup and coffee should go together more often.
Aside from homemade flavored simple syrups, Butler's a big advocate of molasses, sorghum syrup, and yes, maple syrup having a place in your morning coffee. His best trick? Making coffee taste like pancakes. To make yourself a cup of coffee as comforting as a stack of flapjacks, Butler says to pour maple syrup into a mug, fill it with steamed milk, and put in a cinnamon stick. Then, pour your espresso into the cinnamon stick's center hole, like your pouring it into a straw. The espresso will pick up the cinnamon, and combine with the milk and syrup for a perfect drink to start your day.