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TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) - Taiwanese java fans accustomed to pouring sugar into their coffee now have the option of flavoring their brew with another white powder: salt.
Taipei's buzzing 85C Bakery Cafe is offering a T$40 ($1.15) drink which melts sea salt into the coffee foam to give a more complex mouthful for customers constantly seeking out the new in the island's competitive coffeehouse market.
The cafe chain expects salt to hold, said company's publicity director Kathy Chung. The cafe's 326 stores islandwide have sold about 15,000 cups of salted drinks since the concept was introduced in December, Chung said.
"Taiwanese are very greedy, so they want lots of flavors in one mouthful," she said. "Also we have a lot of products, more than 50 kinds of drink, and our boss is always pressuring us to keep coming up with new things."
Sea salt is considered healthy, Chung added.
At the cafe, baristas marinate unrefined salt in a thick cream while making a light Arabica brew, sugar pre-added. The coffee is poured into the cup and the foam mix, with a dash of cocoa powder, is placed on top.
"We haven't heard any strong views about it," Taipei barista Lin Yi-wu said, though some customers are "a bit surprised."
Hung Hsiao-yu, who purchased a salty take-out coffee this week, said the trend could perhaps become mainstream.
"Most people are used to a sweet flavor, but there are two kinds of drinkers," said Hung, 21, who aspires to work in the coffee business. "Some will keep drinking salted coffee, and some will go back to the sweet stuff."
The coffee shop chain aims to launch sea salt drinks at its stores in Shanghai and Australia later in the year, Chung said.
Taiwan's beverage business is known for creating bubble tea, a beverage containing gelatinous tapioca pearls which has spread to other parts of Asia.
In a bid to lure coffee connoisseurs, some Taiwanese coffee farmers are using seeds partially chewed by Formosan rock monkeys, long a scourge to coffee growers because they eat the ripe berries, to produce a naturally sweet blend.
Editing by Miral Fahmy