As I write this, it’s cold and gloomy in the northern hemisphere, so, as we approach Christmas, let me take you back to sunnier times and last year’s Midwest road trip, when I made an all-too-brief visit to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. I’ve already written about Five Watt, in Minneapolis, so today it’s the turn of St Paul, the other half of the Twin Cities.
Spyhouse Coffee is a local roaster/coffee shop chain that opened in its first shop in the Whittier district of Minneapolis in 2000. By the time I visited, it added three more Minneapolis locations, but in true Coffee Spot fashion, I chose the most recent Spyhouse Coffee to visit, it’s first St Paul location (since then, a sixth Spyhouse has opened inside the Emery Hotel in downtown Minneapolis).
Returning to St Paul, Spyhouse occupies an old grocery shop that was, most recently, an antiques store, with Spyhouse opening just over two years ago on Thanksgiving in 2017. Spyhouse serves a seasonal espresso blend, joined by two single-origins on batch-brew and another on pour-over via the Kalita Wave, the choices rotating every few weeks. If you’re hungry, there’s a small breakfast menu, plus a selection of cakes.
Madcap Coffee is, other than Chicago’s Intelligentsia, the one name in Midwest coffee that I hear (and see) on a consistent basis around the US. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which I visited on last year’s Midwest road trip specifically to see Madcap and visit its three locations: Monroe Center, where it all began, the new roastery and coffee shop on Fulton Street, and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Madcap’s coffee bar in Downtown Market.
All three locations have the same basic menu, with two options on espresso and multiple pour-over options, although the choice of beans varies. For Downtown Market, this means that the Third Coast blend, along with decaf, are ever-present on espresso, joined by a second option which changes once or twice a week. For coffee equipment geeks, the shots are pulled on a Modbar system, with Modbar pour-over modules dispensing filter coffee through the Kalita Wave.
Today’s Coffee Spot celebrates the publication of Sprudge’s A Coffee Drinker’s Guide to Grand Rapids, written by friend of the Coffee Spot, The Pourover. Taking you back to a glorious, sunny, hot (29°C) Sunday last September, the day I visited Grand Rapids on my Midwest Road Trip, let me present my own modest contribution, Madcap’s Fulton Street branch, attached to its roastery in suburban eastern Grand Rapids.
The roastery moved here from the basement of the original Monroe Center location in 2015, with the coffee shop opening in March 2018. Occupying an old garage set back from the street, there’s a broad forecourt, with seating out front. The roastery and training room, open by appointment only, is to the left, while the standalone coffee shop is to right.
A smaller, more relaxed operation than the flagship store downtown, the coffee offering’s similar, with two options on espresso (a blend and single-origin), four on pour-over (one blend, three single-origins) and four on batch-brew (six at the weekend). Various drinks are on tap, including nitro and cold brew, plus there’s tea and seasonal drinks. Naturally, the entire output is available in retail bags, with a small selection of cake if you’re hungry.
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.
On my recent Midwest road trip, I planned most of my stops around where I might find good coffee. Appleton, in eastern Wisconsin, near Lake Winnebago and half-an-hour southwest of Green Bay, is one such example. Not top of my list of places to visit, it was a cheap base from which to explore Door County, with the added attraction of Uncommon Grounds Specialty Roaster.
Tucked away at the end of small row of industrial buildings at the west end of town, Uncommon Grounds is not the sort of place you’d accidentally wander by, but it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area. First and foremost a roaster, the front part of the store is a spacious, relaxed coffee shop (similar to Rave Coffee Roasters), where you can order coffee, buy beans and, perhaps best of all, chat with Dan, the owner and head roaster.
Uncommon Grounds has a range of blends and single-origins for sale, one of which, the Trieste blend, is available on espresso with the usual selection of drinks, while there’s a rotating option (a natural Brazilian during my visit) on pour-over through the V60. There’s also a small selection of cakes if you are hungry.
Traverse City was another of the stops, towards the end of my Midwest road trip, which was determined by the presence of good coffee. There are several options, including Higher Grounds, but BLK \ MRKT was my first stop, a tip-off from friend of the Coffee Spot, The Pour Over, via a Sprudge article. BLK \ MRKT is located inside an old market building, Warehouse MRKT (hence the MRKT part of the name), in Traverse City’s Warehouse District, a block back from the beach.
It’s been open since early 2015, and started roasting in April 2017. Like my previous stop, Velodrome Coffee Co, BLK \ MRKT uses a 1kg gas-powered roaster, although this time, rather than being tucked away in a side room, this is open for all to see in the main space. This produces all of the filter coffee, available as a daily batch-brew option, while the Prospect blend from Parlor Coffee in New York City is the mainstay of the gorgeous Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine which takes centre stage on the counter.
If you’re hungry (and I recommend it) there’s also a small range of cakes, pastries and pies, all baked on-site in the enclosed kitchen behind the counter.
My Midwest road trip was planned primarily around the wonderful landscapes of Lakes Michigan and Superior. However, when deciding my route, I did take into account the availability of good coffee, Marquette, on Lake Superior’s southern shore, being a prime example. Located roughly a day’s drive east of my previous stop, Duluth, and big enough to have a decent selection of cheap hotels, what swung it was Velodrome Coffee Co, whose presence I was alerted to by an article in Sprudge, written by friend of the Coffee Spot, The Pourover.
Velodrome is a coffee shop and roastery which opened on 29th August, 2017, occupying a lovely spot on West Washington Street, on the way into downtown. All the coffee’s roasted on-site by a tiny 1 kg gas-fired roaster located in an equally tiny roastery space off to the right of the main area, visible through a hatch in the wall. Velodrome only roasts single-origins, served as espresso-based drinks through a single-group Modbar or as filter via either batch-brew (fast coffee) or Clever Dripper (slow coffee). There’s also a small selection of cakes. If you’re also looking for somewhere to stay, there’s a loft apartment upstairs over the shop and a smaller studio at the back.
If you’ve been following my Midwest road trip, the Coffee Spot has now reached the Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St Paul) in Minnesota, the westernmost extent of my travels. Here I’m indebted to my friend Jen for a whistle-stop tour of the local coffee scene, which included Five Watt, a local coffee shop/roastery chain, with (soon to be) three branches: the original in Kingfield, this, the second branch in East Hennepin, and a third opening next week in St Paul. The East Hennepin branch is in the Miller Textile building, former home of the Miller Bag Company, which dates to about 1880. Five Watt occupies a self-contained space on the ground floor, which it shares with several other businesses.
When it comes to coffee, Five Watt does all the roasting in a facility near the Kingfield branch. The Mic Check blend is on espresso, where it’s joined by a decaf on the lovely three-group Modbar espresso system. Another blend, The Residency, is on bulk-brew, while there’s also pour-over, which is currently the Headliner blend, available through Chemex or French Press. There’s also cold-brew, available in cans and on draught (nitro or plain), plus cocktails, wine and multiple craft beers on tap.
If you haven’t worked it out already, I’m in America, the Midwest to be precise, taking a long road trip that began in Chicago, with me working my way up the west coast of Lake Michigan, stopping at Kickapoo Coffee in Milwaukee. Today’s Coffee Spot is from Door County, the peninsular that sticks out into the lake north/east of Green Bay. I went there to enjoy the countryside and the lake views, but much like Flagstaff earlier in the year, I found great coffee as well, this time in the shape of Discourse Coffee, which subtitles itself “a liquid workshop”.
Run by the friendly and enthusiastic Ryan since July 2017, Discourse will take you on a journey through coffee. As well as offering a standard(ish) espresso-based menu from the single-group Slayer on the counter, there’s batch-brew and pour-over using the innovative Phoenix 70 dripper from Saint Anthony Industries. However, the fun’s only just starting, since Discourse offers a regularly-changing cast of latte-based drinks with some very interesting flavour combinations. All this is served in a lovely, cosy, basement-like space that you really have to seek out, so the only people who are there are those who really want to be.
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.