Holsem’s unusual coffee concoctions might include rose petals or lavender.
2911 University Avenue, San Diego
The already saturated North Park coffee scene took an unexpected turn in early May when Holsem Coffee opened on University at 30th. While the small-batch roaster offers seven single-origin coffees plus both light and dark roast espresso blends, what makes Holsem unique is a roster of so-called Coffee Creations. These original hot- and cold-brew coffee drinks incorporate house-made syrups, nut milks, and internationally sourced ingredients. They move beyond standard coffee-and-milk recipes such as the cortado or flat white, laying the groundwork for a new-fashioned gourmet coffee experience that, unlike many third-wave coffee shops, doesn’t rely on micro roasters from Portland and San Francisco for inspiration.
Holsem cofounder Salpi Sleiman first began offering such drinks when she launched her mobile coffee-cart business, the Roast Coach, three years ago. She sold Roast Coach — and its recipes — in March, and has been developing new drinks with longtime friend and Holsem cofounder Muna Farhat. The two share Middle Eastern heritage and used Turkish coffee as a starting point for developing the shop’s menu. “The inspiration came from drinking our coffee with cardamom,” says Sleiman. “With our desserts we use a lot of rosewater and honey. So it made a lot of sense to me to combine the ingredients.”
To wit, Sleiman says the top seller during Holsem’s first week in business was La Vie en Rose, a cappuccino-styled drink made using a house-made rose-honey syrup made with distilled rosewater imported from the Middle East, spiced with cardamom, and garnished with rose petals. Meanwhile, mocha take-off The Woods incorporates real maple syrup, nutmeg, sea salt, and house-made hazelnut milk. Farhat says the decision to make their own nut milk grew out of an interest in sticking to wholesome, natural ingredients, and the discovery that most storebought nut milks use carrageenan, an emulsifying agent that has been called into question by health-food bloggers in recent months.
Sleiman says, “It’s all about using natural ingredients as much as possible,” including puréed fruit and whole spices. The decision to create their own syrups sprung from concerns over artificial sweeteners and preservatives used in common syrup brands such as Tarani and Monin. Holsem limits its ingredients to natural sweeteners including evaporated cane sugar, agave and honey, crafting syrups derived from vanilla beans hazelnut, and chocolate — the latter sourcing Valrhona, a century-old French chocolatier favored by pastry chefs.
For purists, straight coffee is also on the menu, including four cold brews on tap (one of them decaf). To simplify ordering, Holsem has limited their tasting notes to single delineating highlights to appeal to a customer’s palate — jasmine, almond, or lavender, for example. All their beans were sourced and profiled by an L.A. roaster Sleiman wouldn’t identify other than to say he’s from L.A. and “one of the best roasters around.” She adds that this consultant has connections affording him access to top quality coffees, “So I can say that we have world-renowned beans.”