Top five lattes in Tampa Bay


Luka Vaicekauskas

Working at a local coffee shop for over a year now, I got a good look and feel on what should good quality espresso taste like. However, being so curious and open to new choices, I wanted to compare the top five coffee shops and see which one serves the best modern classic – an iced caramel almond milk latte.

Coffee is a controversial topic — a horoscope. A drink order says so much about a person, their taste, and their experience in the puzzling coffee world. For example, a black coffee expresses a tiring or productive day ahead, but a cold brew with an umpteen amount of syrups, creams, and drizzles can show that you have a sweet tooth or just are not really into the genuine taste of coffee.   

After working at a local coffee shop for over a year, I’ve gotten a good look and feel of what good quality espresso should taste like. However, being so curious and open to new choices, I wanted to compare the top five coffee shops and see which one serves the best modern classic — an iced caramel almond milk latte.   

Clearly, the places chosen will be locally-owned, Tampa exclusive, and will not include your traditional big brands.   

No further talking, let’s get into tasting!

 1. Caffeine Roasters

This place is truly admired among college students for the ambience to study, the customizable drinks, and the well-roasted espresso. They, too, have a drive-thru at their location on 2420 W Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, FL, 33609, which is convenient for the sleepy midweek mornings. They have sizes available in 12 oz, 16 oz, and 20 oz, so if you do think their aromatic double shot of espresso will be your jam, go with a bigger size for a less intense flavor. But now, their iced caramel almond milk latte was something else! The flavor was rich with the “buttery” and sweetly creamy caramel and the nutty almond milk. The experienced barista poured the double shot of espresso over the cloudy whisked milk, and in short- I would drink this every day. The espresso consistency was impeccably incorporated and did not “break” or lose its darkly roasted flavor with notes of caramel and toasted nuts.   




2. Buddy Brew

If you live in Tampa, you surely know Buddy Brew. I gave them three chances, one at each of three of their most visited locations, but left unsatisfied. First off, their sizes are 12 oz and 16 oz, both for hot and iced. The iced caramel almond milk latte did not have the satisfying and rich caramel sauce, as they use syrup. Such was already an immense no, as the syrup has a more sugary side than the creamy notes it should give to their espresso. Their espresso is also inconsistent, as it had different flavor combinations at each of the locations. For example, Kennedy’s place had an extremely watery and weak coffee taste, but their Armature Works one served darkly roasted espresso, maybe even too dark, to the point it tasted burned. Even though I was disappointed with the coffee ordered, their almond milk was of adequate quality. Short and straightforward, $18 of disappointment.   




3. King State

King State is known for its aesthetically pleasing groovy vibes and Instagram-worthy breakfast and coffee breaks. Even though it is about a 15-minute drive from Plant High School, many students enjoy visiting it on weekend mornings for a latte served in their dainty glasses or for a cinnamon bun, because who doesn’t love Winter vibes all year-round? However, I was disappointed in them not having caramel. On the other hand, they do have their own housemade vanilla syrup, which was made on point with notes of orange. The espresso was roasted on the lighter side, which gives notes of more nature-like flavors. They also serve their espresso at Willa’s Provisions, a less visible coffee shop in South Tampa. The vibes at both of the coffee shops were immaculate, not a place to study or work, more for meeting with friends. However, I did feel that the lattes were balanced and combined neatly!




4. Kahwa

Kahwa is a debatable coffee place. Their caramel almond milk latte was not. All I can say is that the espresso was not roasted well, meaning that the flavors it should liberate were missing. In my personal view, it tasted like the regular coffee you get from a fast food place- it does not deserve the hype. The caramel taste was slightly mediocre and inferior- with a sweet beginning but an uncanny aftertaste.




5. Blind Tiger

They are well known for their Dirty Thaiger drink- a double shot of espresso, sweetened condensed milk, Thai tea, and a topping of cinnamon. However, their iced lattes are always creatively evolved, with different flavors, toppings, teas, and drizzles. Nevertheless, when I got the traditional- iced almond milk caramel latte, I felt like I was tasting just almond milk and caramel. The espresso was not strong enough, and you could barely taste the coffee flavor. It was just blank, watery. If you do not enjoy the strong Italian character of coffee- Blind Tiger is not for you.



Of course, I cannot speak for everybody. Still, knowing the anatomy of the coffee bean, the roasting techniques, and the flavors of different single-origin blends, I assume I have a decent feeling of what a good latte should taste like. Do not get me wrong, I like to have a sweet white mocha cold brew with oat milk and caramel drizzle, but if I drank this daily, I would not only need to go to the dentist oddly often but would be living in my tiny little bubble of coffee. I want to encourage my peers to be open-minded, try new things, and support local businesses! The pandemic hit these places, like everything else, and to keep Tampa as local as possible, you should give these places a shot!