Kickapoo Coffee, Milwaukee

An organic Guatemalan Concepcion single-origin espresso from Kickapoo in Milwaukee, served in a classic white espresso cup with an oversized handle.Kickapoo Coffee is another of those Midwest coffee names that I became aware of when I spent some time in Madison last year, particularly from my visits to Bradbury’s Coffee. Based in Viroqua, Wisconsin, Kickapoo has been roasting there since 2005, with an emphasis on direct trade. This is its first coffee shop, which opened in 2015, with two more following, one in Viroqua itself and the other in Bayfield, on the shores of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. I’ve always enjoyed Kickapoo’s coffee, so since I was passing through Milwaukee, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Kickapoo occupies a bright, airy spot in the historic Third Ward, down where Milwaukee’s three rivers converge before flowing into Lake Michigan. A bright, airy, open, modern space, it’s somewhat at odds with the neighbourhood’s older roots as a harbour/industrial area, but that doesn’t stop it being a delightful place to enjoy your coffee.  There’s plenty of seating inside and out, plus a simple breakfast menu if you’re hungry. However, the real draw is the coffee, with the Full Spectrum blend joined by a single-origin on espresso, another blend on batch-brew and three single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Kickapoo Coffee's first coffee shop, on East Erie Street, approaching from the river...
  • ... and seen here from the other direction, approaching from Lake Michigan.
  • There's an open space here, to the right of Kickapoo, which I took to be public seating.
  • Kickapoo, meanwhile, has its own outside seating, behind this strange, projecting scaffold.
  • The view straight on.
  • A handy sign points you in the right direction.
  • The outside seating in more detail: a wooden bench with a series of metal tables...
  • ... which runs the full width of the coffee shop.
  • The door, by the way, is on the right...
  • ... and leads into a short, glass corridor with another door at the far end.
  • This deposits you about a quarter of the way back, with the counter off to the left.
  • A view back towards the door.
  • There is a bench, with three tables, running in an L-shape along the inside of the corridor.
  • Beyond that there's a large space, with a communal talble...
  • ... and a window-bar running along the front of Kickapoo.
  • Finally, beyond the window-bar/communal table are two more benches along the far wall.
  • The view back from the far side of the seating...
  • ... and the view back along the counter towards the back-right corner, which is at 45⁰.
  • There's more seating if you go around behind the counter, starting with these three stools.
  • There are also three high tables against the back wall.
  • One of the tables in more detail.
  • Finally, a row of eight stools lines the rear side of the counter...
  • ... with another look at the three stools along the corner at the right-hand end.
  • Kickapoo has some nice touches, including these plants growing high up on the corridor.
  • While there's plenty of natural light, there are also plenty of lights...
  • ... including these angle-poise lamps, one above each table on the back wall.
  • Kickapoo hosts work by local artists. This, by Jill Sebastian, had just gone up that morning.
  • The Kickapoo logo is also present as a sculpture on the wall.
  • Various posters, advertising Kickapoo's latest single-origins, also adorn the walls.
  • I was there in the middle of Ethiopia season...
  • ... with a Kenyan thrown in for good measure.
  • The retail shelves are on the angled section of the back wall, with the menus above.
  • There's the usual selection of merchandising, coffee-making kit and, of course,...
  • ... bags and bags of Kickapoo Coffee.
  • Unusually for a speciality roaster, Kickapoo has as many blends as single-origins.
  • There's also a wide range of tea from Rishi, a local tea merchant.
  • So, to business and the long, thin counter.
  • The cakes take pride of place on the corner...
  • ... followed by the till, where you order.
  • All the various coffee options are laid out here...
  • ... along with a separate tea menu.
  • The actual coffee menu is on the wall to the right, above the retail shelves...
  • ... where you'll also find the tea and other drinks...
  • ... as well as the food menu.
  • Moving along down the counter and you come to the Kalita Wave pour-over filters...
  • ... then the grinders and the La Marzocco Linea espresso machine.
  • Finally, at the far end, is the water tap and the takeaway/bussing table.
  • If you sit at the far side of the counter, you get a great view of the espresso machine.
  • Talking of which, I had the single-origin espresso, an organic Guatemalan Concepcion...
  • ... served in a classic white cup with an oversized handle.
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Kickapoo Coffee is on East Erie Street, across the road from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. The building, a single-storey, glass-fronted affair on the north side of the street, is hard to miss. There’s an additional open space to the right with several low, broad wooden benches/platforms which, I think, is public outdoor seating. Kickapoo itself, meanwhile, has more traditional outside seating, segregated from the pavement, with a long, wooden bench running along the front of the store, split into three bays, each with a pair of square two/three-person metal tables.

The entrance is on the right, where a single glass door leads down a short, glass-walled corridor to a second door at the back, which in turn leads into Kickapoo proper, a large, open, high-ceilinged space. The counter is off to the left, towards the back of the store, with the bulk of the seating between it and the windows. Starting to the left of the door, there’s an L-shaped bench running along the inside of the corridor and then a short way along the front window. This has a pair of two-person tables and then a larger one at the bottom of the L by the front window.

Continuing along, an eight-person window­-bar runs nearly the full width of the store, ending just before the left-hand wall. Here there’s more seating, a U-shaped bench at the front with a low coffee table in the middle and, behind that, an L-shaped bench backing onto it with another coffee table. The remaining space, behind the window-bar, is occupied by a central, long, narrow, 12-person communal table.

There’s then a large gap between the seating and the counter, leaving plenty of space for those who have ordered their coffee to wait to collect it (yes, Kickapoo suffers from the American disease of counter-service). Finally, there’s more seating behind the counter, with three high, two-person tables against back wall, while a row of eight bar-stools lines the rear side of the counter itself, with three more along the back corner.

The counter, by the way, is an interesting affair, almost an island, projecting from the left-hand wall, but tapering by 45⁰ to a point at the right-hand end. This is where you’ll find the cakes and till, the 45⁰ angle meaning that they’re facing the door. This is mirrored on the back wall, where the right-hand back corner is cut off at 45⁰. This angled section holds the retail shelves, with the menus above them, ideally placed to the right of the till.

After ordering, there’s a natural progression along the counter, past the three Kalita Wave filters for pour-over, and on to the EK-43 grinder, the twin Mythos 1 espresso grinders and a three-group La Marzocco Linea espresso machine. Rounding things off at the far end is a two-headed self-service tap, offering still and sparkling water.

Kickapoo roasts all its own coffee, with the single-origin options on espresso and pour-over changing on a roughly monthly basis. After a quick chat with the barista, I decided to go with the single-origin espresso, an organic Guatemalan Concepcion which she described as “interesting” and “complex”. If there’s a single-word description of coffee that will always get me going it’s “interesting” (and “complex” is not far behind). Pulled short in a classic white espresso cup with an oversized handle, my espresso more than lived up to its billing, being both complex and interesting, although, as usual, my limited palate/vocabulary can’t really do it justice. It seemed to me that pretty much every sip was subtly different, with a variety of fruity flavours present.

December 2018: Kickapoo Coffee, Milwaukee was a runner-up for the 2018 Best Espresso Award.

232 EAST ERIE STREET • MILWAUKEE • WI 53202 • USA +1 414 269 8546
Monday 07:00 – 18:00 Roaster Kickapoo (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Window-bar; Tables (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 18:00 Food Breakfast, Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 18:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 18:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 07:00 – 18:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 08:00 – 18:00 Power Yes
Chain Regional Visits 6th September 2018

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2 thoughts on “Kickapoo Coffee, Milwaukee

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