Flow State Coffeebar, a hybrid café-workspace, serves the most dazzling desserts in Philadelphia. 

By Regan Stephens
October 30, 2019

Coffee shops are great for a quick caffeine boost or an extended remote work session, but the food is rarely memorable. But at Flow State Coffeebar in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, the WiFi is fast, the cold brew is flowing, and the pastries and gelato on par with what you’d find in a Michelin-starred restaurant. 

Melanie Diamond-Manlusoc, with her wife, Liz Diamond-Manlusoc, and business partner, Maggie Lee, opened Flow State in 2017 as a hybrid coffee shop and coworking space, citing the café culture in Europe as an inspiration. “We like the idea of having a place that’s vibrant—where people come to work, but we also want to encourage a livelier environment that allows an exchange of ideas,” says Lee, who was born in Guangzhou, China, and grew up in Philly.

Jaclyn Warren

The chef takes the exact same care she used at her former fine-dining posts (at Morimoto and Spiaggia) with every item on the menu at Flow State. Each batch of gelato—in flavors like avocado and buko pandan (based on a popular Filipino dessert she ate growing up)—can take up to three days to make. All the paninis are made on bread baked by Diamond-Manlusoc; varieties include roquefort, challah, milk focaccia, and cinnamon raisin brioche. The signature panini is served on her funky, tangy roquefort bread with housemade fig jam, cashew butter, havarti, and fontina cheeses, buttered on both sides and pressed, which she likens to “an adult peanut butter and jelly or a fancy cheese board in sandwich form.”

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Diamond-Manlusoc also makes all of the caramels and syrups that go into coffee drinks. “The vanilla bean caramel made with madagascar bourbon vanilla beans is the same exact caramel that I’ve put on fancy-ass plated desserts in the past,” she says. “But now we put it in a latte or a cortado.” Rosemary caramels are made with sprigs of the fresh herb, spices for the chai are mixed and ground in-house, and pastries like her concha—a cross between the Mexican sweet roll and a Filipino ensaymada.

Some of the creations were inspired by her time working in fine dining. One is the pizzelle, with vanilla bean gelato sandwiched between two Italian pressed waffle cookies, surrounded by almond feuilletine crunch with hazelnut chocolate and crêpes Dentelles then dipped in cacao nib-infused chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt. Another is the cakesicle, which the team calls “elegance on a stick.” Diamond-Manlusoc made a version of the dessert at Morimoto, but this one—with layers of almond cake, Early Grey gelato, and apricot jam, dipped in cacao nib-infused chocolate and (using tiny tweezers) dotted with a flake of 24 karat gold—costs $10 and you don’t have to wear a cocktail dress and know what fork to use to access it.

Ingredients, too, are chosen with a near-obsessive care. Chocolate for the cookies and other desserts comes from Switzerland-based Felchlin. When one of the Felchlin reps came to Flow State last year and Diamond-Manlusoc told her she uses the company’s Maracaibo 65% couverture chocolate in her desserts. “She was floored,” says Diamond-Manlusoc. “The chocolate received a gold medal for best couverture in the world and I am putting it whole in our chocolate chip cookies.”

European-style Wuthrich butter from Wisconsin, with an 83% fat content, goes into all the baked goods. “Usually pastry chefs only use this type of butter for croissants and other laminated doughs, but I use it in every single thing we make.”

Though the food could easily pass for anything served at a far swanker spot, one of the guiding principles of Flow State is that everyone should feel welcome.

“My friends and family would hear about these desserts that I’d make at these really expensive restaurants in Chicago, but they’d never try them, because they couldn’t afford to eat at the restaurant, or they felt weird about coming and just having dessert,” says the chef. “At Flow State, people can have a really nice dessert, but they don’t have to spend a lot of money, or get dressed up, or go into an environment that they’re not comfortable.”

After all, Flow State is technically a coffee shop. Even if the food is far more memorable.

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