High Voltage, Zero Proof
Crafting coffee cocktails in Asbury Park
Looking for the kick of a cocktail without the booze? Head to Asbury Park. Opened in June after a 2016 pop-up run, High Voltage Seafront Cafe is part of a caffeinated wave gaining steam in the city. Devoid of alcohol but high on flavor, their coffee cocktails bring the latest in brew culture to the boardwalk.
Mainstays at barista throwdowns, alcohol-free drinks have been cropping up in major metros, bolstered by a temperance cocktail trend. Absent gin’s perfume or whiskey’s muscle, they still deliver a jolt—and here, they offer another reason to linger in an airy, Euro-inspired space.
DIY down to the wood-grain counter, the café merges handcrafted cool with a high-octane food and drink program. It’s the brainchild of Sonia Jozajtis and Jason Thomson, along with co-owners Allison Trautwein and Mike Caliendo. You’ll know you found it when you spy the lightning-bolt neon sign. “It’s a communal space where you can chill, read a good magazine and stare at the ocean,” Thomson says.
From cold-brew smoothies packed with almond butter, banana and cacao to a refreshing coldbrew lemonade inspired by an Arnold Palmer, drinks evolve seasonally. Come fall, expect cinnamon and coffee–apple cider cocktails, and plays on coffee and doughnuts. As if wall-to-wall ocean views weren’t enough to inspire a return visit.
“It’s about the product, the experience and simplicity,” Trautwein says. It’s also about pushing the bounds of the standard-issue coffee menu, on which Trautwein and Caliendo take the lead. That begins with the beans. High Voltage works with Jersey City’s Modcup and Maiden Coffee Roasters, another new arrival on Asbury’s caffeine scene. An offshoot of surfer-chic Cafe Volan, their Kenya windrush beans are sweet, light and perfect for pour overs.
From cold-brew smoothies packed with almond
butter, banana and cacao to a refreshing cold-brew
lemonade inspired by an Arnold Palmer, drinks evolve
seasonally. Come fall, expect cinnamon and coffee–apple
cider cocktails, and plays on coffee and doughnuts
Drink recipes are approached with curiosity, with a desire to see where each roast leads. Take the Japanese-style iced coffee, crafted with Maiden’s beans. “It’s pour-over iced coffee brewed per cup,” Jozajtis says. “People are literally sipping it, and they’re like ‘wow, this is different.’” That’s because hot water draws out aromatic compounds that aren’t cold soluble.
Then there are those coffee cocktails, which Trautwein has been experimenting with for years. As a regular on the CrossFit circuit, she once caffeinated fellow competitors from a roving cart dubbed Live Fast. Coffee options were inspired by her own pre-meet rituals, during which she and partner Danny Collins would brew drinks with benefits. “We would wake up every morning and make our own coffee with organic coconut oil, grass-fed butter and cacao powder.” High Voltage features a riff on that original among options that open a mixology-inspired frontier.
A well-crafted cocktail is a dance among components: sweetness, bitterness and acidity aligned with water and booze. So, too, with the coffee version. “Making a cocktail is similar to extracting coffee, where you have bitter notes, you want a lot of sweetness and also acidity,” Caliendo says. He ties the rise of coffee cocktails to a broader attentiveness to craft. “People appreciate mixology—how we pair food and drinks together, how we pair different ingredients so that the flavors complement one other.”
Bonus: they’re a.m. friendly. “You don’t have to wait until happy hour,” Caliendo jokes.
Mike Caliendo links coffee cocktails and mixology
Given their name, it’s unsurprising that High Voltage is evolving at a turbo pace, including the introduction of a beach-meets-Euro-street-food menu. It was designed by Jozajtis, who grew up in Bydgoszcz, an hour and a half south of the Baltic Sea in Poland. There, food was pesticide-free and sourced from neighbors, and pre-winter canning sprees could last a month. Her first stop as a US transplant was in Brooklyn, and commodity food quickly took a toll.
“I started to get sick,” she says. With prodding from Thomson, she ultimately doubled down on an organic lifestyle, and her menu centers on freshness, health and transparency. Think rainbow-hued salads and seasonal pierogi with farm-sourced fillings like wild organic mushrooms and house sauerkraut or butternut squash and sage. The inspiration extends to drinks, where ingredients such as turmeric and rose syrup add health benefits. “You are what you eat, and you are what you drink,” she reflects.
This philosophy will be even more apparent soon. Come late summer/early fall, the team is opening a second, Springwood Avenue location. A long time in the works, it will be part of Asbury Park’s recently funded Transit Village, a neighborhood revitalization project. Carrying forward elements from the boardwalk, the space will also feature a sustainability-focused grocery that will be as close to zero-waste as possible. When produce passes its sellable prime, it will make its way to smoothies and jams. An ugly produce section will celebrate fresh fruits with a less-than-perfect visage.
Jozajtis will also have more room to play, with fermented and pickled food high on the agenda. Yet above all, she envisions this as another communal space for the city, where Sunday brunches and close quarters with Asbury Cowerks and Second Life Bikes (a nonprofit that offers area youth a way to work for wheels) will bring people from across the city. Indeed, she sees that as the key ingredient to the transit village project. “I truly believe that the investment will bring this part of the city back to life,” she says.
HIGH VOLTAGE SEAFRONT CAFE
800 Ocean Ave., Asbury Park
808 Springwood Ave., Asbury Park