Given our seemingly unquenchable thirst for coffee, boutique brews are practically a food group all their own, with a place on the nutritional pyramid somewhere between fruit (2-4 daily servings) and grains (6-11).
But java offers more than needed energy and seductive aroma. It gives imbibers an excuse to frequent cafés and the social scene they create. Visit any thriving city, and you’ll find its streets dotted with one independent café after another. Detroit hasn’t been so lucky. Starbucks shuttered some of its Detroit locations as part of the chain’s nationwide contraction. And that may be a good thing. While we welcome investment from the big chains, nothing beats home-grown coffee shops and the individual quirkiness they serve along with the brew.
Following is a venti-sized menu of metro Detroit’s indie cafés, a local blend that satisfies a variety of tastes, from artistic to sleek, offbeat to cozy.
Café con Leche
4200 W. Vernor Hwy. (Mexicantown), Detroit; 313-554-1744.
Café con Leche is the little café that could. Originally located in the now-defunct Mexicantown Mercado, it became the one bright spot in the barren plaza. Owner Jordi Carbonell, who hails from Spain, moved his shop to a site across from Clark Park and the change did a world of good. Today, Café con Leche hums with activity and a distinct neighborhood feel. Posted fliers and postcards, mostly bilingual, advertise everything from upcoming concerts to free H1N1 vaccines. The décor is lovely: Comfortable leather chairs and attractive wooden tables furnish a vibrant space with high ceilings and colorfully painted walls decorated with works by local Latino artists. Leche’s large front window overlooks Vernor and Clark Park. A small retail alcove offers Latin CDs and art.
And then, of course, there’s the coffee. Latte lovers won’t be disappointed. And for the slightly more adventurous, there’s Cuban coffee and champurrado (made with chocolate and cinnamon). Visitors also may order a Jarritos (flavored soda from Mexico) or sangria soda. Sip while you listen to customers chat in Spanish, in Detroit’s best coffeehouse.
2287 Holbrook, Hamtramck; 313-319-8766, cafe1923.com.
When did Hamtramck get so effortlessly cool? Café 1923 has got to be the only coffeehouse where you can drink a macaroon latte and listen to your fellow patrons argue in a Slavic language while you mull over which book to select from the library of volumes on display. This bright, airy café occupies a restored 87-year-old building owned by fourth-generation descendants of its original Polish proprietors. Its features include oak shelving, ornate tin ceilings, and vintage tchotchkes displayed throughout. The café hosts bimonthly open-mic nights and regular art openings for Hamtramck artists. Bring cash: Café 1923 takes no credit cards.
The Rowland Café
Rowland: 500 Griswold (Guardian Building lobby, downtown), Detroit; 313-964-1928, therowlandcafe.com. Stella: 500 Griswold (Guardian Building lobby, downtown), Detroit; 313-964-3910; 3011 W. Grand Blvd. (Fisher Building lobby, it the New Center), Detroit; 313-664-0400, stellacafe.com.
If you need a reminder of Detroit’s glorious past and a glimpse of what could still be, spend some time at The Rowland Café. Located in the ornately tiled lobby of the Guardian Building downtown, its sweeping views of the stunning design can make your midafternoon pick-me-up an uplifting experience. Rowland serves famed Illy coffee (from Italy) and an appealing selection of sandwiches, soups, and salads.
Rowland’s proprietor also owns Stella International Café, with locations in the Guardian and the Fisher Building (another architectural gem). Stella sells Illy coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice, New York bagels, croissants from a local master artisan pastry chef, and gourmet breakfast and lunch panini sandwiches. Its Web site says Stella offers “a refreshing alternative to the chain experience” — and it’s right.
Espresso Jazzy Café
212 E. Grand River (Harmonie Park), Detroit; 313-633-4893.
This colorful and cozy café near the Detroit Opera House has an especially good reputation for its hot chocolate. It also offers Boylan’s sodas and a selection of high-quality tea. Sit in the small upstairs balcony for a view of the action below and listen to the jazz wafting from the speakers.
Bean & Leaf Café
106 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-586-9602; 439 S. Main St., Rochester; 248-601-1411, mybeanandleaf.com.
The Bean & Leaf manages to make you feel like a good citizen just for being there. It offers locally made products, including baked goods from Detroit’s Avalon International Breads, fair-trade, organic coffee, and 100-percent biodegradable coffee cups. Its staff is friendly and easygoing. Bean & Leaf often displays noteworthy photo exhibits, and it’s open late (until 11 p.m. during the week), making it a popular hangout for the late-night study crowd.
Plymouth Coffee Bean Co.
884 Penniman, Plymouth; 734-454-0178, plymouthcoffeebean.com.
“The Bean,” as it’s affectionately called, is a little slice of hip, indie culture in the middle of cheerfully mainstream downtown Plymouth. Its specialty-drinks menu includes items created by customers and baristas. That commitment to individuality extends to bumper-sticker wall art, including one that reads, “Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks.” The café hosts regular poetry readings, weekly classic-movie nights with popcorn, a monthly children’s story time, and live music on weekends. Its converted-house setting appears rather worn from the outside. Once inside, however, patrons find a spacious, comfortable setting with rooms painted in different colors. But the best seating is outside, where a front porch overlooks charming Penniman Avenue and chairs are grouped beneath a large shade tree.
AJ’s Music Café
240 W. 9 Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-399-3946, ajsmusiccafe.com.
AJ’s is an interesting blend. On one hand, it’s your friendly local hippie café with a menu offering vegan options and the scent of patchouli in the air. On the other, it’s run by an owner ambitious enough to land the café in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest continuous concert (288 hours) by multiple artists. That feat came on the heels of a 50-hour, non-stop performance of “Danny Boy” that brought the likes of Gov. Jennifer Granholm through its doors. Mondays-Thursdays are open-mike nights, which feature acoustic music and poetry. AJ’s also hosts quality theater productions (along with some that are a bit more avant-garde).
90 Macomb Place, Mount Clemens; 586-954-2677.
This warm, colorful coffeehouse brings an upbeat atmosphere to downtown Mount Clemens. The coffee is roasted on-site, and soymilk drinkers rave about the soy lattes. Che Cosa’s baked goods go well beyond the usual bagels and zucchini bread. The array includes muffins, bars, and oversized cookies baked in-house. Homemade soups and sandwiches make Che Cosa a good lunch spot, too. Feel free to take a midday snooze on one of the welcoming couches or grab a cup to go and take a one-block stroll to the Clinton River.
THEY KNOW BEANS
• Michigan may not grow coffee beans, but locals certainly know how to roast them.
Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co., in Bloomfield Hills, is a micro-roaster of specialty-grade coffee, including many that are fair trade and organic. The company roasts its beans to order.
As Great Lakes says on its Web site, “We are solely focused on the business of properly roasting and packaging exceptional coffees for a very discriminating clientele. As a true micro-roaster, our strength is in our attention to detail and our ability to adjust to the needs and demands of the educated coffee buyer.”
Chazzano Coffee Roasters in Ferndale is metro Detroit’s other roaster of note. Chazzano doubles as a café with contemporary décor and a friendly staff. It has taken some heat for not posting its menu and resisting consumer requests for flavored syrups and even milk and sugar.
But even naysayers acknowledge that Chazzano coffee is outstanding.