If you really want to understand Detroit, just look to its coffee scene. After all, coffee shops are where communities commune, collaborate and of course, caffeinate.
Modified: November 19, 2019
If you really want to understand a city, just look to its coffee scene. After all, coffee shops are where communities commune, collaborate and of course caffeinate. In Detroit, the coffee scene has seen an explosion in the last ten years. The city is home to everything from in house roasters, a coffee shop-laundromat duo, a café with technology that roasts your beans in seconds and more. Each of these specialty coffee shops serve up a quality cup, but more importantly provide a space of calm and connection in a fast-paced city.
The Narrow Way Café, located out on Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion, is one coffee shop that you should definitely go out of your way to visit. At Narrow Way Café, you feel like a part of the community, even if you’re only visiting. Fostering community was the goal of this local and minority-owned café, founded by brothers David and Jonathon Merritt. The brothers originally operated out of Straight Gate International Church, before relocating to their current spot in order to connect with the wider Detroit community. The café’s tag line is “a stress free environment” – something that becomes apparent the moment you step inside. The sounds of smooth jazz softly fill the café, which is small but comfortably packed with locals who chat and work at the purple cushioned seats lining one wall. A big front window opens out onto the street, giving the café an airy feel. Narrow Way Café serves up quality coffee thanks to their partnership with Zingerman’s, which roasts three unique blends for them. There is also a tempting and extensive smoothie menu. Customers range from local business owners to remote workers to construction workers, and the barista seemed to know all their names – she even remembered mine when she called goodbye as I left.
Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday closed
Populace Coffee is one of Michigan’s most-loved coffee roasters, and a true icon in the state’s third wave coffee movement. Although their headquarters are based in Bay City, Populace Coffee did recently open a small café in the lobby of Siren Hotel in downtown Detroit. As you walk in the hotel’s lobby, you’ll be greeted by an opulent 1920s atmosphere that recalls the days of Detroit’s lavish past. Complete with desks, velvet armchairs, and even a cushioned antique day bed, this is actually a cozy place to sit (or lay) down and work, or meet with friends. The Populace Coffee menu features a variety of classic drinks with a Michigan twist. I ordered the Michigan Cold Coffee, complete with maple syrup to sweeten. If you want croissants or pastries, be sure to get here early in the day!
Monday-Sunday 7 a.m. – 4 p.m.
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At first, walking into Roasting Plant feels more like walking into a science lab than a coffee shop. This is a very special coffee shop in downtown Detroit, where every cup of coffee is roasted not only on site, but right as you order. This is possible with their patented JavaBot technology. Customers simply select the beans and roast style they want. The selected green beans, which are stored in huge tubes in the middle of the café, shoot up convection tubes which run along the ceiling, and into the JavaBot, where they are roasted, ground and brewed. This immersive roastery is definitely a unique experience that cannot be found at any other coffee shop (besides the other Roasting Plant locations in NYC and London).
Monday-Friday 6 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
Madcap Coffee opened its doors in downtown Detroit in March 2019. However, they’re certainly not new to the coffee scene. Founded in Grand Rapids, Madcap Coffee has been sourcing single origin beans and creating award-winning roasts for just over a decade. The new Detroit location is particularly chic. It is light and airy, and not at all sterile the way third wave cafes sometimes feel. The café features standing-height tables with hooks for your bags, as well as a wide window that’s flung open on a hot day for customers to order from outside. Although Madcap’s pour overs are stunning, they also have a painstakingly designed specialty drink menu. I went with the nitro float – their Guatemalan Hunapu blend served with Calder dairy ice cream.
Monday-Friday 7am-7pm, Saturday 8am-7pm, Sunday 8am-5pm
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Urban Bean Co is truly the incarnation of the phrase ‘hole in the wall.’ This café is located on the corner (literally, it’s shaped like a triangle) of Griswold parking garage in downtown Detroit. Don’t worry though, you won’t miss it due to its bright orange exterior. Within, guests are greeted to a tight but cozy space, wafting with the smell of coffee. It would of course be tough to roast their own coffee in this small space, so Urban Bean Co sources their beans from Michigan-based small batch roaster White Pine Coffee, located in Lake Orion. On the barista’s recommendation, I ordered the ‘pure evil latte’ – an espresso mixed with cherry syrup and steamed milk. It was certainly strong, and an example of a tiny place packing a big punch.
Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.- 7 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Photos by: Blank Spacefrom Pexels and Narrow Way Cafe
On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find Germack, a roaster that has been operating since 1924. The Germack family was originally famous for roasting pistachios, but in 2010 they branched out and began roasting coffee beans as well. Walking into their location near Eastern Market on a Saturday morning is an assault to the senses. It’s crowded with coffee fiends and market-goers, but not uncomfortable. Grab a cappuccino or latte from the counter, and be sure to explore the shop before heading out to the market. The building itself is cozy and dark, with wooden beams and brick walls that are packed with everything from tea pots, intricate coffee brewers, exotic spices, fresh roasted nuts and more.
Monday-Wednesday 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Thursday-Friday 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Anthology Coffee is another Detroit coffee shop that’s not too far from Eastern Market, as well as the Dequindre Cut. Previously located in the Corktown neighborhood, Anthology now has a much bigger building for its roasting and brewing needs. Set back from the road, Anthology Coffee is a minimalist, industrial space. On a nice day, the huge warehouse doors are opened and the indoor cafe blends with the outdoor patio. Step up to the coffee bar, which extends through the center of the building, and take your pick from a selection of single origin brews. This is definitely a place where the baristas know their stuff. Describe your favorite brew style and taste to them, and they’ll happily match make you with their top picks.
Monday-Sunday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
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Welcome to perhaps the coziest cafe in all of Detroit. Cairo Coffee, owned by Monica Isaac, is a small café set back in the long-standing boutique Savvy Chic, near Eastern Market. The menu includes a variety of brews from roasteries such as Madcap and Counter Culture, but it was something different that caught my eye: Qahwah. Qahwah is an Arabic style of coffee that is similar to Turkish coffee with a gritty and subtly sweet taste. However, the very finely ground beans (which Cairo Coffee sources from Hashems in Dearborn) are also mixed with cardamom, before being brewed in an Ibrik. It takes seven minutes to brew, which gives you some time to peruse the lending library that Cairo Coffee proudly cultivates under their front counter. Whatever you choose to order at Cairo Coffee, set aside some time to savor it with a good book and some conversation with Detroit’s friendliest baristas.
Tuesday 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday closed
Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company roasts coffee right here in Detroit, with beans directly sourced from farmers. You can visit their Midtown location, where coffee is served up alongside an extensive sandwich and salad menu, in a gorgeous 130-year-old building. This location is open late each night, making it a perfect destination to get together with friends or a date, and enjoy events like open mic nights. Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company also has locations in Maple Theater, TCF Center, and a regular stall in Shed 2 of Eastern Market.
Monday-Thursday 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday 7 a.m.-12 a.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-12 a.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
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New Order Coffee Roasters describe themselves with words like “glee,” “delight,” and “silly.” This is clear when you walk in the doors of the Midtown location, with smiling baristas and a bright atmosphere. The menu itself is just a little bit frivolous, featuring specialty drinks like a caramel marshmallow espresso and a cereal milk latte. Seasonal drinks range from a cotton candy nitro float to a s’mores mocha latte. However, this playful streak doesn’t mean New Order Coffee Roasters don’t take their coffee seriously. With top-end gear like Mahlkonig grinders, and on site roasting at five levels of darkness, the coffee served at New Order is both serious and fun. It’s also highly popular with the local community, as you’ll find Detroiters working and chatting here in droves.
Monday-Thursday 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
A coffee shop in a laundromat – or a laundromat in a coffee shop? The Commons is one of the newest and certainly most unique coffee shops in Detroit. Located on Mack Avenue in Islandview, The Commons is part of MACC development, a firm with the goal to revitalize and engage Detroit’s 48214 zip code. After a year of operation, it’s already apparent that The Commons is doing a good job at that. Customers can pop in a load of laundry, and then enjoy a coffee while they wait. The Commons uses Michigan-based Populace beans in all their drinks, ensuring a quality roast every time. Both detergent and coffee can be bought from the counter – with all items coming in at under $4. At The Commons, local Detroiters find a useful and tasteful community space, and visitors get a glimpse into a re-energized Detroit neighborhood.
Monday closed, Tuesday-Friday 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday 3 p.m.-9 p.m.
Photos by: Kate Amos from Pexels and New Order Coffee.
Story by: Sarah Bence