Once upon a time, the mitten-shaped state known as Michigan was not known for its coffee. Its bizarrely named "Coney Island" hot dogs and diners, its square-shaped pizzas, its death of industry...sure. But artisanal coffee? Not until recently did this pleasant peninsula begin to stand out, and cities across the state have begun to offer some of the best coffees roasted in the nation—and the mitten itself—at truly lovely cafes. Here are our very favorites.
In a city overrun by student-hangout chain cafes and gigantic submarine sandwiches, Comet's opening heralded a new concept in coffee to sweet little Ann Arbor. A coffee shop might be more than just a place to camp out with 100 med school textbooks—it might be a place to stop in for a sophisticated experience and taste amazing coffees from roasters around the country.
Area native Jim Saborio opened this shop in the curious Nickels Arcade as a place to experiment and showcase, and you'll find as wonderful coffees as anywhere, from roasters like Ritual, Terroir, 49th Parallel, and so on. Baristas constantly tinker with brew methods to make the geek factor high here, but are always approachable and friendly. If you get there soon, they might still make you a siphon.
In the shadows of the grand Michigan Central Station, the hollowed-out grand railway terminal that looms over Detroit's Corktown, is a quiet stretch of Michigan Ave revitalizing (there, I said it) up a storm. From pulled pork to prohibition cocktails to, yes, craft coffee, this block is the place to be if you're in Detroit for any reason other than to find the nearest casino. Astro provides not only a welcome, but beautiful, place to enjoy great coffee and espresso drinks (West coast roasters like Handsome and Ritual are among the features) alongside exquisite house baked goods. It's something special to find a coffee shop like this anywhere, but in a parched landscape like Detroit, it's a particular delight.
Ugly Mug Cafe and Roastery
This longstanding roastery and neighborhood cafe has been going at it since 2004 down the road from Ann Arbor in picturesque Ypsilanti, Michigan. Now that smoking is no longer legal in food establishments, the only aromas here are the smells of fresh, on-site-roasted, no-nonsense, great coffee, like farm-sourced Guatemalan Finca Miraflores. The shop itself skews more down-to-earth hipster than gourmand...but that's what Ypsilanti is for, right? Stop in for an intense espresso drink and some people-watching. (There are also lots of books you can borrow and possibly a strategy game going on in the back.)
Last but not least, the leader of Michigan's "third coast" is MadCap coffee, a micro-roaster whose first cafe (their second will open in Washington, DC later this year) joined the reawakening of downtown Grand Rapids into a food-literate city and a destination in its own right. MadCap's broad selection of carefully sourced coffees win scads of awards, as do their baristas (like two-time regional champion and head roaster Ryan Knapp). The brilliantly sunny space is just the spot to convince yourself to linger just a little more over a delicately tingly cup of Burundi Kiryama or a rich cappuccino (made with MooVille milk!) These guys are the pride of Michigan coffee and you should make a point to visit if you're travelling anywhere up and down the Lake Michigan coastline this summer. Except for Sundays, that is—they're closed.
And while you're at it, don't forget to check out other great Southeast Michigan spots like Commonwealth Café in Birmingham, and the MOCAD Cafe featuring locally roasted Anthology coffee at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently compiling photographs of the best coffee in the world to be published by Presspop later this year.