Lattes flavored with rose, spicy beetroot or activated charcoal sound like something one might find in a hip coffee spot in Los Angeles. But, one local business owner is elevating the Central Valley’s coffee culture with these creative craft drinks and more at his downtown Merced café.
Justin Shen opened Asip Coffee Roasters Co. in November 2017 as the first specialty coffee shop in Merced. While there is an emphasis on inventive, unique lattes, Shen said the whole goal is to highlight the coffee itself.
“We really want the coffee bean to shine,” Shen said.
Green coffee beans, which are mainly sourced from countries in Africa and Latin America, are brought to Asip where a range of flavor profiles are developed. Upon entering the coffee shop, customers see a large roaster, where one to two times a week Shen roasts the coffee beans that are used in house. At Asip, patrons can choose which roast they’d like for their pour-overs, from light to dark roasts, with flavor profiles from the floral to the fruity.
Everything at Asip is handcrafted and for drinks like lattes, any inventive flavorings are made in-house. Local and natural ingredients are always first-choice, from the milk and syrups in the drinks, to the pastries and baked goods offered on the counter.
Education is also important at Asip where patrons can take latte art classes and learn about the art of coffee. Shen himself has even participated in the national roasting competition and said he enjoys sharing his passion for coffee with others, especially his staff.
“I treat my baristas like family,” Shen said. “It’s so much more than being a barista, it’s a lifestyle and a culture.”
Shen took two of his baristas with him to China last summer for the opening of his second Asip location. The café, located in the city of Suzhou, opened in August 2019.
“I call that shop a parallel universe,” quipped Shen. “It’s almost identical to the Merced location, but it’s in China.”
Shen is originally from China, so the Asip shop abroad is a way he can connect his roots with his current home.
“We tell people it’s a California coffee shop,” he said.
Although Asip has already gone global, next steps for Shen include expanding within California. He is currently searching for additional locations that might be a good fit for Asip.
In the meantime, locals can venture to the Merced location for a fine cup of joe, latte or iced drinks. Whatever the choice, the ingredients are sure to be wholesome, local and original.