At RND Coffee in Roanoke, chef-owner Quincy Randolph’s creative lattes are all the buzz

By Layla Khoury-Hanold

It’s good to see RND Coffee humming again, to see friends excitedly embracing as they settle into couches clutching cups of coffee, to hear the familiar whoosh-spray of the espresso machine, to share a smile with the person sitting behind their laptop at the bar. My previous visit, last summer, was amid a global pandemic, when owner Quincy Randolph had to close his café for dine-in and pivot to take-out only.

It was a memorable visit not only because of the absence of activity and people, but because I got to sample Randolph’s latest coffee creation—a s’mores affogato capped with torched Italian meringue and feuilletine (crispy sweetened crêpe flakes). It was such a luxurious treat, made even more memorable because it was prepared and served with such care.

It’s the kind of intangible service that touches your heart and warms your soul—a hallmark of exceptional hospitality. This makes RND the kind of coffee shop that every neighborhood wishes they had, where the experience is as impressive as its creative concoctions.

Although RND stands for Roasters Next Door, to hear the way in which Randolph conceptualizes coffee drinks calls to mind R&D, the “Research and Development” chefs employ when conceiving new dishes. It’s fitting, given that Randolph is also a chef, who, prior to opening RND in Roanoke, with his brother Steffon, worked at Blackbird, the now-shuttered Chicago fine-dining destination.

When RND opened in 2019, Randolph started with the basics—but they were anything but basic. Think: a mocha made with scratch-made chocolate syrup; a pumpkin spice latte made with actual pumpkin. Randolph continued flexing his ingenuity, dreaming up a bewitching black garlic maple latte, made with fermented black garlic to concentrate its mellow sweetness, and a smoked caramel apple latte, which was flash-smoked-to-order under a glass dome, then unveiled in a flourish of smoke.

But for a drink to make it to the menu, the flavors must work—to paraphrase Randolph, this isn’t crazy for the sake of it. Like most chefs, Randolph doesn’t like to play favorites, but a recent triumph includes a seaweed latte.

“It’s a flavor I’m familiar with as a chef,” he says. “I think it has more potential than just outside sushi or being served in traditional Japanese cuisine or dashis. Nori seaweed pairs really well with sweet things, and pairs surprisingly well with cream.” To bring out nori’s inherent briny, savory qualities to play off coffee’s earthy, bitter notes, Randolph toasted nori sheets, then blended them into a powder before transforming it into a syrup with a little honey.

Besides offering balanced, flavor-forward beverages, the RND experience must also deliver on approachability. It’s a core tenet of Randolph’s hospitality philosophy, exemplified in the way he and his staff make every guest feel welcome, starting with eye contact and a friendly greeting. And like the best bartenders, RND baristas can talk flavor profiles and gauge a guest’s mood to help guide them to a drink they’ll love.

That warmth and approachability is also underscored in Randolph’s YouTube Channel, Café with Q, where he gives consumers a behind-the-scenes look at his process. Take the hit orange sweet potato latte, in which sweet potatoes are simmered with warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, then blended and strained into a syrup that creates the base for an aromatic, fall-ready latte that trumps pumpkin spice. Get the recipe here, watch the video, and get ready to turn your home kitchen into a latte lab. The R&D has been done for you.

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Savor Virginia