South Carolina is well-known for its incredible southern cuisine, accompanied by sweet tea—and Michael Claisse is hoping to add some more exotic options to that drinks list. A line cook in his native Charleston since he was 14, Claisse branched out and founded Khi-Khi Milk Co. (while helping out his friends over at Jack Rudy Cocktail Company from time to time). Khi-Khi Milk Co. aims to produce unique beverages from cultures all over the world with their own handmade twist and their inaugural product—a Vietnamese cold-press coffee—shows promise.
Anybody who has enjoyed the sweet, iced Vietnamese delight at a restaurant will be able to taste the difference of added flavors and preservatives in the few bottled versions that are available in stores. Khi-Khi Milk Co. offers an alternative with high-quality, natural ingredients and a patient process. "The first time I had it was at a local Vietnamese-run restaurant called Fuong. That was the traditional version, where hot coffee is dripped into condensed milk and then that is poured over ice. Personally, I have a sweet tooth, so it was love at first sight," Claisse tells CH. "Ours is a bit of a riff on that. Traditionally, a very dark roast is used, but we opted for a more gently roasted bean. We also cold-steep our coffee for 16 hours, instead of hot-brewing. That cuts a lot of the acidity and you tend to get a lighter coffee flavor there—and also more caffeine! We add a bit of Valrhona cocoa after it's all said and done, which I think makes it just chocolatey enough, without hiding the coffee flavor." The results are so smooth and drinkable that it's not necessary to pour it into a cup full of ice—it's delectable straight from the bottle.
From the start, Khi-Khi Milk Co. announced that a portion of their profits will be donated to the Tibet Relief Fund. "There's a Tibetan Buddhist idea that before we are American, European, South American, or etc, we are all just people," explains Claisse. "In some capacity, I'd like to celebrate that and I think Khi-Khi is built on that idea. Each of the cultures we (Khi-Khi) draw inspiration from are amazing on their own, but I think it's truly beautiful that they can all exist in harmony."
Claisse reveals that the next idea he's toying with is a peanut milk from Trinidad: "It's consumed as an old-school energy drink all over the Caribbean, and it is absolutely delicious."
Visit Khi-Khi Milk Co. online to view where they're stocked in Charleston, SC.
Images by Cool Hunting