Madcap, Monroe Center

The latte art in my cortado, made with the Third Coast blend at Madcap, Monroe Center, Grand Rapids.When it comes to coffee roasters in America’s Midwest, outside of Chicago’s Intelligentsia, the one name I consistently hear (and whose coffee I consistently see) more than any other is Madcap, from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I first came across Madcap in 2014 at Box Kite in New York, and most recently at Miami’s Vice City Bean. Along the way, Madcap’s coffee’s been good enough to get on the shortlists for the Coffee Spot’s Best Filter Award in 2015 and for the 2014 Best Espresso Award. Naturally, when planning my recent Midwest road trip, Grand Rapids was the first place I pencilled in (although it was my last stop of the trip).

Three are three Madcaps in Grand Rapids. This one, on Monroe Center Street, right in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, is where it all began, opening as a coffee shop, with the roastery in the basement, in 2008. Although the roastery left in 2015, moving to a dedicated facility on Fulton Street, the coffee shop remains. A large, open, bright space, there are two espresso options, three on pour-over. Naturally, the entire roastery output is available as retail bags. There’s also a small sweet and savoury food selection.

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Vice City Bean

Detail from the side of the Vice City Bean cold brew tricycle in Miami, Florida :seriously good coffee!The casual visitor could be forgiven for thinking that Panther Coffee is all there is when it comes to speciality coffee in Miami. However, the  coffee scene is slowly taking off, particularly over the last couple of years. It was a barista at Panther’s Wynwood branch who first put me onto one of these newcomers, Vice City Bean, which opened in April 2016, a few blocks south of Wynwood, just north of the downtown area.

It’s a lovely spot, with large, north-facing windows, high ceilings and lots of space. The coffee is all the way from Madcap in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while there’s a guest espresso, which was from Onyx Coffee Lab in Arkansas while I was there. These are available through a cut-down espresso menu with a range of alternative milks. If you prefer filter, there are two options on bulk-brew and three more on pour-over through the Kalita Wave, with offerings from Madcap and the guest roaster. Meanwhile, there’s cold brew and loose-leaf tea.

If you’re feeling hungry, there’s a range of cake and pastries, including savoury pastries. Add to that a small selection of empanadas and assorted toast-based snacks, so you are covered for breakfast and lunch.

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Slipstream

The A-board outside Slipstream in Washington DC, which poses the question: "How do we take our Coffee?". The answer, of course: "seriously, very seriously".I went to Washington DC with no great coffee expectations, but then found the amazing Peregrine Espresso, a lovely little coffee shop that would grace any city. That, honestly, would have sent me home happy, but just six blocks further along 14th Street is the amazing Slipstream.

It’s not just that the coffee here, from Michigan’s Madcap, is excellent (which it is). Slipstream is also, by speciality coffee shop standards, huge. With a good range of loose-leaf tea. And with decent breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, all the food being prepared on-site in the kitchen behind the counter. And, as befits a place that’s open well into the night, there are cocktails from a fully-stocked bar.

However, I’d been drawn by the coffee, which Slipstream amusingly (and accurately) splits into “Quick Coffee” (espresso and bulk brew) and “Worth the Wait”, hand-filtered single-origins using the Modbar. There’s a choice of four of these, plus decaf, and they change on a weekly basis. They’re also all available as espresso, where they’re joined by the house-blend, Madcap’s Third Coast. If that wasn’t enough, there’s another blend, Six-One-Six, on bulk-brew filter, plus a rotating seasonal coffee.

And the service was exceptional: coffee-heaven in an amazing setting.

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Box Kite

An espresso in a white cup from Box Kite CoffeeBox Kite is a relatively new player on the New York coffee scene, occupying a small, cosy spot on St Marks Place in the East Village, two blocks east from old favourite I Am Coffee and just across Tompkins Square from Ninth Street Espresso. Opening on January 1st this year, Box Kite is, dare I say it, more European-style coffee shop than American, offering coffee and wine in the day, with food in the evening. This is all served with a touch of elegance that reminded me of the likes of London’s Notes and Fernandez & Wells.

Seating is very limited, both in the number of seats and in what’s available. While you can come to Box Kite for a romantic, candle-lit dinner, don’t expect to find yourself sitting at a table, gazing across at your loved one. Seating at Box Kite is strictly at the counter or on stools at one of two very small bars. That said, it’s the ideal place to sit and drink coffee!

I’m indebted to Lee Gaze for recommending Box Kite, which he said was so good he walked two miles in a blizzard to get to it. You can’t get better than that!

August 2016: It looks as if Box Kite has had to close its doors for good, which is a terrible shame.

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