Detroit Artisan Cafes Perk Up Coffee Scene

Sep 22

4:33 PM

By Andrea

Tagged: North Cass

There's a new coffee trend brewing in Detroit, and it has nothing to do with industry giants like Starbucks or Biggby.

In the past 18 months, independently owned, artisan coffee shops have opened in areas including Corktown, Midtown, Hamtramck and Eastern Market, and in suburbs like Ferndale, offering java aficionados an experience that's as unique as the upscale coffee these baristas serve. And more are coming, including one at Campus Martius in downtown Detroit.

Coffee drinkers these days crave a different kind of coffee, owners say. Gone is the demand for sugary lattes and cappuccinos. Today's coffee drinkers want a better quality, more flavorful blend and want to savor the brew in a neighborhood setting.

Local baristas are happy to oblige.

"Coffee shops are much more popular lately in Michigan and around the country," said Edward Deeb, chairman and founder of the Warren-based Michigan Food and Beverage Association. "It's becoming as popular as it is in Europe."

While big chains such as Starbucks and Caribou Coffee dominate the market, the localization of the industry is a trend across the country, according to a 2012 coffee industry report by the Small Business Development Center, a Texas-based business information company. The 50 biggest coffee operators account for 70 percent of sales nationwide.

"Many customers of the big national chains, while satisfied with their daily coffee, would be intrigued to find a local coffee that is different," the report said.

The growth of small, independent coffee shops comes even as national and regional chains proliferate. Seattle-based Starbucks, which closed stores in Detroit and across the country in 2009 as a cost-cutting move, posted record profits last year, buoyed by new coffee blends and the opening of stores around the globe. Lansing-based Biggby Coffee reported its 32nd consecutive month of sales growth in July and has plans for 12 new Michigan stores.

'Buy local' trend helps

Helping the independent movement, too, is the "buy local" food trend and a push to purchase Michigan-made products.

One of Detroit's newest coffee hotspots, Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co., opened on Woodward Avenue in Midtown two months ago.

With an interior created from wooden parts of a 100-year-old home in Hamtramck, the coffee bar pays homage to Detroit's blue-collar roots and sells self-roasted, single-origin blends from countries such as India. Cold brewed coffee is on draft, next to artisanal beers.

"We're trying to elevate coffee to the same level as wine or craft beer," said James Cadariu, a Detroit resident and partner in the business, who has observed a shift in what people drink. "There's definitely a trend toward drinking better coffee."

Great Lakes also offers a complete coffee cocktail menu, a natural wine list and an extensive food menu that includes sushi. While the interior has an open, warm feel, Cadariu says "it ends up being the people who come in that make the space."

Coffee "needs to have a more independent feel," he said. "If you can get the same thing on every block, you lose interest in the product."

Just a few blocks north on Woodward, Joanne Czerny's 14 East coffee shop in the Park Shelton has a decidedly different atmosphere. With a mini art gallery and changing displays of paintings and jewelry and soft music in the background, the shop reflects its neighbors: the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Historical Museum. She uses a roaster in Ferndale and her coffee comes from countries like Brazil, Ethiopia, Peru and Rwanda.

"It's typically more subdued, which is OK," she said of her shop.

No matter what the atmosphere, Czerny said coffee shop owners all want the same thing.

"We want you to taste the coffee, that's the key," she said. "People are discovering how good freshly roasted coffee tastes. We don't want that thing on the billboards with syrup, whipped cream and peanuts."

Suburbs see surge, too

Detroit is not alone in seeing the rise of independent coffee shops. The suburbs also are experiencing an increase in the number of independent coffee shops, too. New stores have opened in Birmingham and Ferndale within the past year.

Sandi Heaselgrave said her Ferndale coffee shop, The Red Hook, is meant to give customers a higher quality product.

"I don't want to be 'pretty good for Detroit,'" she said. "I want to be awesome, period. People deserve the same quality as Seattle, New York or Portland."

Chilly Chilton opened Courage Coffee in Hamtramck in January and brews coffee from roasters in Grand Rapids, Detroit and Bay City. The shop is a nonprofit connected with his nondenominational Courage Church, and is staffed by volunteer interns.

Chilton said customers have remarked his place has a "New York city feel" and it even offers a 200-seat concert venue that's hosted art shows, meetings, wedding showers and other events.

He's not as quick as other store owners to demonize name-brand companies such as Starbucks, saying shops owe them "a huge debt of gratitude" for making coffee-drinking popular, but he admitted local coffee stores offer something more.

"We all need a place where we can go and chill," he said