Last week, I journeyed across Michigan in quite possibly my biggest coffee
crawl drive yet. In 3 days, I hit up a dozen shops and met an unbelievable amount of passionate coffee people. As a side note, I’m probably not the best person to travel with if you’re the itinerary type: I didn’t know I was going until three days beforehand, had only my sleep spots figured out, no real time tables, & meetups with people were either planned the day before or an hour before via Twitter.
So first: fuel for the trip included coffee (obviously), donuts, and packing compact brew equipment. At the last moment, I threw in the Bonvita kettle that got used in the competition. I also brought some gifts for coffee friends, because I’ve learned that being nice actually helps you make friends (imagine that!).
DAY ONE: Detroit
My first impressions of Detroit: ghost town, man drinking out of paper bag, where in the world is everyone?
The Great Lakes Aeropress Championships (GLAC) was my primary reason for visiting Michigan. A Twitter friend, Evan Cooper, whom I had only met for the first time in-person two weeks prior had co-organized it with Andrew Heppener of Populace Coffee. By the magic of Twitter, I had also become Tweefriends with several others I wanted to meet in-person. It was a partial friend support trip, Chicago getaway, and a networking trip. Really, 90% selfish cafe travel reasons.
Cafe #1: Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company
This is where the GLAC took place. I had one espresso to drink after my long drive in from Chicago and then I spent the rest of competition live-tweeting for @GLAC2013. This was my first time in Great Lakes and the first time having their coffee. Their space was enormous- it must have been a factory before- gorgeous high ceilings, great wood everywhere, and a long bar of half alcohol & half coffee. The competition itself went well- a lot of people went and I got to snag a few bags of Populace Coffee & Fika Coffee, plus an Aeropress! Another big perk is that I got to see Erica Starr and [for the first time in real life] Twitter friends Cara Nader, Mike Greene, Justin Beavers, and Andrew Heppner.
I do want to mention that the Michigan coffee community seemed disconnected. I’d like to think a main goal of the event was to foster community connections. What I saw, though, were people only hanging out with their own cafe, not creating useful connections. Michigan, you’re a big state, but come on now, if you want to grow your coffee community and showcase your quality, you’ve got to work together to promote it.
Cafe #2: Anthology Coffee
This was my first time being in Anthology and also my first time ever having their coffee. We came to socialize and spent a greater part of it just hanging out and chatting. Special thanks to Josh Longsdorf for hosting, chatting, and gifting a bag of coffee.
DAY TWO: Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti & East Lansing
Special thanks to Evan for hosting me for the night AND for drinking SO MUCH coffee with me in Ann Arbor. Can I just say that I love the coffee community on Twitter? We went to six shops in Ann Arbor. I’d never been to Ann Arbor before, even having gone to Michigan State for undergrad. Multiple people have told me how much I would love it and I’ve heard great things about several coffee shops there. It’s a charming town with brick roads, large storefronts, and adorable streets.
Cafe #3: The (espresso) Bar
The (espresso) Bar was our first stop in Ann Arbor. After building it up in my head for SO LONG, it was completely different from what I had expected. The lower floor wasn’t as homey or designed as I would’ve liked, but the one-group La Marzocco, simple menu, and hospitality won me over. Water glasses were set up for us at a table, drinks were brought out to us, and the flat white was the flattest white I’ve seen in a while.
Cafe #4: Mighty Good Coffee Roasting Co.
Next up was a visit to Mighty Good. I don’t even know how big the space was, but they definitely had two customer rooms plus their roasting operation in the back. The real reason we came in here was because I wanted a look at my first Slayer espresso machine. Gorgeous curves.
Food break: Zingerman’s
We walked over to Zingerman’s and holy crap, this place is seriously enormous. I think maybe there were five connected buildings. I’ve been hearing about their pickles for a while now, but honestly was not expecting an entire pickle. Yes, it was tasty, but who can eat a whole pickle in one sitting?!
Cafe #5: Comet Coffee
Another shop I’ve been hearing so much about. It was located in an adorable “hall” of shops and one of the smallest shops I’ve ever been in. It was maybe 10 steps to the counter from the door and contained a few tables & bar stools. We had a capp & espresso here from 49th Parallel and met up with Foster, too!
Cafe #6: Lab
Yet another shop people keep telling me about. Like Comet, they’re a multi-roaster. To be honest, at this point, I was kind of getting real caffeined out, hence the excitement for their soft serve. I don’t even remember how my coffee was. It was pretty crowded yet quiet in here. Quite a few students studying away.
Cafe #7: Glassbox Coffee
Newly opened Glassbox Coffee is yet another multi-roaster spot in Ann Arbor. It featured Madcap, Stumptown, and [I want to say] Blue Bottle. We had 12 oz Aeropresses (still figuring out how that happened) of Stumptown.
Cafe #8: Ugly Mug Cafe & Roastery
Since I work at Gaslight Coffee & the legacy of it started at Ugly Mug, I felt like I should pay them a visit. Plus, this was the place where my now-defunct MSU Coffee Club went for a latte art workshop. A few years ago, these guys were kind enough to train 15 college coffee enthusiasts for two hours. It was a key moment in coffee for me: I realized how cool it could be and how fascinated I was with it. Coffee was an industry I could get into.
Cafe #9: Espresso Royale
I came to Espresso Royale, not because of their [un]stellar coffee, but because this was where I had spent two years of my undergrad in East Lansing. It was where I’d walk in and find friends at any given time, where my friends and I came up with Coffee Club, where the board would have our weekly meetings, where I’m sure I had some awkward dates, where I got free coffees from the staff and extra shots in my triple mochas.
I stayed over at my friend’s place in East Lansing and it was so lovely to just hang out and do some catching up. We made a great dinner, sipped on homemade chai, and then woke up to me making coffee.
DAY THREE: Grand Rapids & Kalamazoo
My last leg of the trip most definitely had to include Grand Rapids.
Cafe #10: Rowster Coffee
My association with these guys have been primarily through Twitter and Instagram. I went to see Stephen Curtis, who has only been too nice to me whenever he passed through Chicago. I also met Mike Greene from Lemon Jellos there. Mike was one of the aforementioned IRL Twitter friends from two days ago. It so happened that he lived half an hour away and met up with me to talk shop in Grand Rapids. During the hour and half of sitting there, Stephen made us drink after drink… after drink. We had a Kenya by Clever, Sulawesi by Clever, same Kenya by siphon, and something I don’t remember via espresso.
Cafe #11: Madcap Coffee
No Grand Rapids visit is complete without visiting Madcap. I chatted some more with Mike Greene here while sipping on a cortado. The walls were stripped bare, because they were going in-between art installations. The cortado had more foam than I prefer, but I’ve realized long ago that everyone has their own definitions of a cortado. It was still one tasty cortado! Biggest surprise here is when Andrew Grassmick, their Director of Sales, walked up to us and asked if I was me.
“Are you Jenn Chen? I saw that you mentioned Madcap in a few of your tweets.”
GUYS, TWITTER WORKS. Kudos to Madcap for 1) actually reading their mentions, 2) reading them in a timely manner and 3) taking action on them.
Cafe #12: Black Owl Cafe
I hadn’t planned on stopping in Kalamazoo, nor did I know about this cafe until I was in the middle of my trip. The cafe itself is relatively new, but their roasting operation is a few years old. They had a ridiculously gorgeous space, full food menu, and five different coffee brew methods (3 coffees to choose from). I made the very unfortunate mistake of not only choosing soft brew, an immersion method, but also their darkest roast.
This was one fantastic coffee vacation. If I had to do it over, I would probably not go to seven shops in one day since I didn’t really get to experience all the shops in their coffee glory as I would’ve liked. On the other hand, I did get to meet a lot of wonderful people, taste some great coffee, experience interesting interiors, and get out of Chicago like I needed to. Thanks to everyone for meeting up and talking shop, couldn’t have had such a great travel time without you!