Sep 22, 2022 - Food and Drink

Monin's flavor queen concocts creative drinks and treats in Clearwater

Photo: Selene San Felice/Axios

Guy Fieri has nothing on our queen of Flavortown.

That sweet, sugary crown goes to Julia Melucci, beverage innovation manager at Monin's flavor syrup plant in Clearwater.

State of play: The facility is like Tampa Bay's version of Willy Wonka's factory, with delicious smells wafting throughout the building and bottles filled with colorful syrups taking mesmerizing conveyor belt rides.

  • Just outside where the bottles are filled, you'll find a luxurious test kitchen: Melucci's office and playground.

Her job: Creating cocktails, coffees and other beverages and treats with Monin flavors, which companies that use the products can then put on their menus.

  • "I'm working on an assignment for lemonades right now along with holiday drinks, snow cones, winter coffees," Melucci told Axios earlier this week. "Everything's different every day. That's what makes it so great."

Each month, she and Monin's other beverage innovators are challenged to create recipes around a seasonal flavor.

  • July's flavor of the month was watermelon. "So essentially I came up with four cocktails that month, and my teammates were assigned a different category like milkshakes, coffee (it's hard to do a watermelon coffee but it worked!) and mocktails."

What does it take to be a beverage innovator? Melucci bartended for almost 30 years around Tampa Bay, most recently at Sea-Guini at the Opal Sands Resort in Clearwater.

  • When she's not in the test kitchen, she's researching food and drink trends in industry publications like Chilled and Imbibe.

Her favorite flavor combo: A s'mores latte with toasted marshmallow flavor and dark chocolate sauce.

The downside: You've heard of the freshman 15? After Melucci started at the company in February, she said she gained "the Monin 20," "because I chose to taste everything every day."

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