Coffee in Detroit is on the rise. Although Detroit’s economic woes are far from left in the past, the influx of community, economic, and artistic output in recent years has also brought with it a burgeoning selection of Third Wave coffee destinations. That said, in this recovering city, finding excellent coffee in Detroit tends to require grit, determination, and most importantly a reliable means of transportation. The lack of public transit and the sprawl of the city are not very conducive to coffee tourism, but all of this is par for the course for anyone used to getting around the metro area. Despite the hurdles, Detroit’s coffee selection is excellent, with a multitude of roasters, shops, and cafes that showcase the best of what contemporary coffee can be. Here is a selection of favorites from around the city and surrounding area.
Perhaps one of the most well-respected and ubiquitous micro-roasters in Detroit, Anthology Coffee is part roaster, part cafe, and part community hangout space. Tucked into a small room in a large industrial workspace and office building full of various up-and-coming startups and unique manufacturing outfits, Anthology flourishes as a friendly, neighborhood coffee destination that is always welcoming.
The unique space, which includes a Modbar as the central focus and a Mahlkönig EK 43 that allows each of their coffees to shine in different forms, really lends itself to conversation and a way to learn about the coffees that are being served. Eschewing the traditional counter service for a more open format that allows barista and customer to interact more closely provides an interesting experience that is hard to find in most other shops. The busy space has another function—it is also the production space—where coffees are bagged, ready to be sent off to various cafes, and where their signature iced coffee—it's become a Detroit staple—is brewed and bottled. Showcasing both the art and science of coffee is Anthology’s specialty, with high-end equipment galore that serves both aesthetic and functional purposes. With its great coffee selection and community-driven mission, it comes as no surprise that Anthology is the local roaster of choice for many respected Michigan cafe outfits.
The pinnacle of Detroit cafes, Astro is a multi-roaster shop located just down the street from Anthology’s operation in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Astro’s interior, as well as its excellent selection of coffees by premier roasters from around the country, gives the illusion of a cafe located in a coffee capital such as Seattle or San Francisco. Their rotating selection of coffees usually includes offerings from George Howell, Ritual, Heart, Sightglass, and local favorite Anthology, and the baristas have the knowledge and skill to brew each coffee in a way that does it justice. If, God forbid, you are limited to only one drink at Astro, make sure to get yourself an espresso. Every espresso that they feature is amazingly unique and flavorful, and the care put into every shot is breathtaking.
The space itself has a rustic and artisanal feel—with handmade wooden shelves holding the bags of beans available for sale and a chalkboard menu that changes according to the day’s selections. Speaking of chalkboards, every wall is covered floor-to-ceiling with chalkboard paint, and showcases breathtaking chalk masterpieces that are as impressive as they are whimsical. Astro also offers a selection of house-made baked goods and sandwiches, as well as an array of local mercantile products. If you only have time to visit one coffee destination in the city, Astro is the obvious choice.
Located inside Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAD), Café 78 is a relatively new pop-up venture that serves Anthology coffee. While not exclusively a coffee shop—the cafe also offers a full-service bar as well as an expansive food menu—Café 78 is an emerging destination for quality pour-over coffees as well as espresso drinks. Located in Midtown, an artistic hub of a neighborhood that boasts a college campus and a selection of museums and art galleries, Café 78 is a chameleon of a coffee shop that also serves as a venue for local music acts and other artistic enterprises. Baristas take care to make sure the offerings are up to snuff. I recommend taking a look around the museum, and taking in the unique culture along with your tasty brew.
The Red Hook Detroit
The Red Hook is a small shop that is set a bit off the main downtown district that houses the previous destinations, but it is definitely worthy of a detour. The shop seems out of place in the lush, mostly residential West Village, situated in a solitary block of businesses alongside a few restaurants. The Red Hook, which also has a location in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale, serves a simple menu, offering single-origin coffees from Stumptown on clear glass V60s that are prominently displayed. Although they do occasionally feature coffees from other roasters, Stumptown’s Hairbender blend is the mainstay—a pleasant surprise to see in such a small and unassuming neighborhood shop. The space itself showcases the local flair that makes the shop unique. Colorful hand-painted murals cover most of the wall space inside, including the image of a gigantic bird taking off on the ceiling.
Although its flagship cafe is not technically inside the Detroit city limits, Birmingham’s Commonwealth cafe is definitely deserving of mention in any guide to Detroit coffee destinations. Operating in a large and airy room with gigantic garage doors that are raised up on warmer days to let in a cool breeze, Commonwealth’s cafe space would seem out of place in Detroit proper, but is perfectly at home in a city like Birmingham, where boutiques and trendy restaurants line the streets. Although they offer a large lunch and dessert menu, the coffee at Commonwealth is not just an afterthought, even with a bustling stream of lunchtime customers lining up to order pastries and sandwiches. All their coffee is roasted in-house and made to order, and I was delighted to see four quality pour-over options on the menu as well as a selection of espresso drinks, which included a single-origin espresso option as well as their typical espresso blend. In addition to their flagship location, Commonwealth has expanded its coffee operation to include a coffee bar located inside the midtown storefront of Shinola, a retail outfit that sells high-end watches and bicycles, among other goods manufactured in Detroit, and is soon to gain another with the opening of Ann Arbor’s Shinola location.
Tyler Bailey is a coffee professional living in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Read more Tyler Bailey here.