Maybe you’ve seen it on Instagram. Maybe you’ve spotted it on Facebook. No matter where it may pop up, Round K’s Matte Black Latte may be the blackest coffee you’ve ever seen.
It’s the brainchild of owner Ockhyeon Byeon.
“Our customer keep coming in and asking, ‘Hey, can I get a black coffee?’ And then we just communicate a little bit. You know, actually coffee is not black at all.” Byeon told InsideEdition.com.
That’s when Byeon and his team began figuring out how to actually make coffee pitch black. He and his team kept on experimenting until they found the right solution.
When Round K first unveiled their Matte Black Latte, they used activated charcoal to achieve its color.
They had to stop using it once the government stepped in.
In 2018, New York City’s Department of Health banned all food and drink containing activated charcoal. Even though the FDA has not banned the substance, New York City DOH officials classify activated charcoal as an adulterated food, meaning it could potentially be harmful.
“So we are not using that activated charcoal anymore. We using 90% cocoa powder and Round K hell blend. Which is really dark coffee compared to other coffee,” Byeon said.
Version 2.0 of the vegan drink also contains coconut cream and almond milk and is only served cold.
That is just the beginning when it comes to the shop’s offbeat drinks. Next up was the Egg Cappuccino — a hot cappuccino with a raw egg yolk inside. They also serve a Wasabi Latte. The spicy condiment, usually paired with sushi or other savory foods, takes center stage in this cup o' Joe.
These drinks, like everything else in the shop, is a direct nod to Byeon’s Korean roots.
"I told my father, he mentioned me in 1970 or 1980 in Korea's cafe, they serving coffee with egg together. Because 1950, Korea war happening in that time. You know, state army get it in there, and then Korea's really poor country,” Byeon started.
"To them, coffee was one of [the most] expensive ever drink. Plus egg is really expensive, too. So whenever we going into coffee shops, they were drinking some special one,” Byeon said.
The coffee shop is split into two. The front is where the action is — where the coffee gets brewed, where the food gets prepared, and where strangers and regulars alike strike up friendly conversations with the baristas.
Behind a curtain, Round K gets a little quieter. Tiny tables, chairs and coat hooks line the back of the shop. The walls are decorated with traditional Korean art, and newer pieces from local artists.
Byeon modeled the space after the traditional shops he and his family used to frequent during his childhood in Korea.
That’s exactly why Byeon opened Round K, to share a little bit of his homeland’s history with New York.
"That means if I can introduce it, people can experience more.”
Byeon originally majored in electrical engineering, studying in Italy and Virginia before moving to New York.
All the while, he'd work part time selling coffee and it took over as his passion.
Byeon says his parents supported his decision and were right by his side once he opened Round K.
Byeon also says he wants to provide a stress-melting atmosphere, where his customers feel welcome to stay. "But, really, we want to talk with them, you want to cure each other,” he said. “Customer will be happy because they can get whatever they wanted. Plus these people will not get stressed by mentally. That is my thing."
As for Round K's next feat, Byeon says they're going to try to make a more savory coffee pairing. They're also going to try to cook meals using only their espresso machine.