| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter Youtube RSS Feed

Features

Coffee and culture: Artisan cafes pour over Grand Rapids

Chloe McKee, The Lantern.

The Lantern

The Lantern

Madcap Coffee

Madcap Coffee

David Doyle, left, and Andy Guy at Madcap Coffee.

Rowster Coffee

Katie Broadbooks at Rowster Coffee.

Justin DeWaard at Rowster Coffee.

Rowster Coffee

Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters

Craig Patterson, Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters.

Whether you're looking for a basic espresso or a hand-crafted pour over, your hyper-local options are perking up. Thanks to a growing artisan coffee culture in Grand Rapids, it's getting easier to find a high-quality, locally roasted cup of joe in West Michigan. 
In Grand Rapids, artisan coffee culture is exploding. As evidenced by the success of veteran shops like MadCap and newcomers such as The Lantern Coffee Bar and Lounge, coffee drinkers are finding a home in a variety of shop environments with a vast array of roasting and drinking selection. Though some may imagine each shop elbowing for room in the local marketplace, owners and staff members argue that the friendly competition allows for expanded growth and a continued perfecting of the craft. Just as the increasing number of local breweries serves the particular taste of each beer aficionado, so does each new café offer a unique product, space and environment to the friendly marketplace.
 
“There’s definitely room for all of us,” says Rowster New American Coffee General Manager and Director of Coffee Justin DeWaard. DeWaard, who delights in Grand Rapids coffee shops that “riff off each other’s energy,” enjoys the unique perspective and offerings of each café. Rowster, which opened in July 2010 in its Wealthy Street Corridor location, has positioned itself as a hip tasting bar with a concentration on roasting.
 
“We literally just do coffee,” says DeWaard, and he adds that they offer patrons “the nerdier side of coffee.” In this way, they focus on a confidence in the brew and a lack of the ancillary items of a common coffee shop. Thus, the design lines are clean, the menu is minimal, and no syrups are offered on the premises. Instead, highly trained baristas may offer you sweet, homemade almond milk beneath an artfully crafted foam swirl latte.
 
The owners also tout their variety of pour over options, including V60 and Clever, and encourage patrons to be “inspired,” “educated” and “enabled.” As an extension of this philosophy, the owners Stephen Curtis and Kurt Stauffer launched Regular Coffee, Rowster’s “anti-brand” in May of 2012. Regular, a monthly subscription service that continues to grow steadily, offers customers freshly roasted coffee delivered to their doorstep. With Regular Coffee, “you don’t need the barista,” claims DeWaard, as the high quality beans are made accessible at a regular price (about half of Rowster’s usual rate) for home brewing.
 
In agreement with DeWaard's appreciation for each unique product, Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters founder and Grand Rapids native Craig A. Patterson suggests that this variety allows for a shared customer base. “Nobody has anybody exclusively around town,” says Patterson, who founded the wholesale-only roaster in 2007. This “good mix of people,” including hipster millennials, devoted retirees, families and GR tourists, can be found at his special “Saturday Experience.” Though purely a roasting space in an off-the-beaten-path southwest side warehouse during the week, Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters opens itself up to the public on Saturdays to allow customers to sample the fare and request small batches (12 lbs. or less) of freshly roasted beans while they wait (about a short 20 minutes).
 
The majority of Patterson’s time is spent supplying independently owned, non-franchised shops, restaurants, churches and local businesses. He uniquely caters to those seeking lower temperature, small batch roasts, which allow Patterson to customize each order. A lifelong coffee drinker, Patterson’s mission is “to educate.” “We are trying to turn people away from the chains, one customer at a time,” he says.
 
With a shared mission of educating the masses about good coffee, owners of The Lantern Coffee Bar and Lounge Steve Wiltjer and Kevin Wallace seek to welcome Starbucks and Biggby drinkers to their doorstep. Though they invest in perfecting their coffee, they also see the need to remain accessible to coffee drinkers in the middle ground.
 
“For us, it was really important that we scale that back just enough that people can access it,” says Rachel Bush, wife of Wiltjer and occasional Lantern barista. Lantern, a cozy, unexpectedly spacious coffee lounge at the corner of Commerce and Oakes, reflects the market’s need for a comfortable “safe” atmosphere for coffee drinkers of all tastes. Lantern opened in April 2013 to an enthusiastic and diverse group of patrons, including downtown professionals and students of the neighboring Thomas M. Cooley Law School and Douglas J. Aveda Institute. Stumbling upon the location by chance, Wiltjer and Bush initially thought that the space was much too large for the small shop they had envisioned. However, they soon found that the space contributed to their mission: a good cup of coffee with a welcoming atmosphere.
 
The coffee bar serves brews from Bay City’s Populace Coffee, founded in 2010, and also holds a rotating roaster spot for variety. With a passion for Grand Rapids, Wiltjer and Wallace also source their baked goods from local GR Bagel and Bartertown Diner, thus offering a further window into the variety of budding food retailers in the city. “If you’re going to be a local business, support local business,” says Bush. This relative newcomer’s perspective on the bustling Grand Rapids coffee scene? “We can use more coffee in GR for sure,” says Bush. “We really love that GR is becoming a coffee place.”
 
While most agree that MadCap founders Trevor Corlett and Ryan Knapp helped lay the groundwork for a strong appreciation of artisan coffee in Grand Rapids, many shops and roasters declare that the steadily growing marketplace has room for more and different coffee experiences. With a variety of roasting styles, pouring techniques and methods of retail and storefront, Grand Rapids residents continue to learn about, enjoy and consume hand-delivered, hand-roasted and hand-poured coffee and espresso, on cozy couches or behind highly polished bars, from downtown to Eastown, in a warehouse or strolling down Monroe Center. “[It’s] fun to have camaraderie in the area,” says DeWaard, which certainly expresses the friendly competition felt in a coffee marketplace that continues to grow while surprising and delighting thirsty Grand Rapids residents.  

Lauren F. Carlson is a freelance writer and editor, Aquinas alumna, and Grand Rapids native. Her work can be found at www.emptyframecreative.com, and she can be reached at lauren@emptyframecreative.com for story tips and feedback.

Photography by Adam Bird

Signup for Email Alerts
Signup for Email Alerts