Living in Michigan, the coffee lover in me can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy when visiting a city like Chicago. Sometimes it seems that you can’t walk anywhere in the city without walking past an endless selection of quality Third Wave cafes offering top notch pour-over coffee and locally roasted beans. Although some Michigan cities such as Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor already have a bit of a head start on the specialty coffee industry with a selection of progressive cafes and a few roasters, the reality is that the Michigan specialty coffee scene is still in its infancy. Detroit, considered by most to be the cultural capital of the state, boasts some quality coffee destinations like Anthology Coffee and Astro Coffee, but the reality is that the city is still a specialty coffee desert. While similarly sized cities have burgeoning coffee scenes, Detroit’s—and Michigan's—economic woes have stifled the growth of a recognizable coffee scene. However, great coffee in Michigan seems poised for a renaissance. Just as the craft beer industry has made notable headway in establishing Michigan as one of the forerunners of the microbrew, growth potential for small coffee roasters, and a healthy specialty coffee market, seems likely to follow.
And though we may lack a large and well-established coffee community seen in cities such as Chicago or San Francisco, Michiganders still know how to show their support for great coffee. Anyone in denial of this fact need look no further than the line snaking out the door of Ypsilanti-based Hyperion Coffee at their grand opening on May 1st. Excited supporters filed slowly through the immense wooden doors for their chance to get a taste of what owners Eric Mullins, Dan Kubera, and Alex Merz were offering at the new roaster in town. All three partners are Midwestern coffee veterans—Mullins has pulled tenure at Madcap, Zingerman's, and Anodyne Coffee to name a few—and all are also longtime staff (or patrons) of Ypsi coffee stronghold The Ugly Mug, for years the only game in town.
The event had a small-town charm that would feel forced if transplanted anywhere other than here in the Depot Town neighborhood of Ypsilanti, Michigan. As people mingled under a tent or sat in circles on the ground outside, inside the excited buzz of the party melded with a soulful and ambient performance by a local band tucked neatly into the corner. Dishes full of food—brought potluck style by friends and family—crowded a smaller table near the entrance with an open invitation to dig in. Some guests brought homemade desserts or other gifts to share with the owners as congratulations on the opening, while Mullins and Kubera proudly manned a three-group Synesso Cyncra (modified with individual pressure regulators for each group head), pulling shots and brewing cups to hand out to the populace. A generous evening, extended towards a community Hyperion currently serves (literally, and figuratively—they don't have a retail space at present) from behind the scenes.
From outside, Hyperion’s giant green barn-like doors and the looming brick exterior seem more suited to an industrial storage space than a specialty coffee roastery. But once inside the space, it's hard to imagine the historic building being built for anything other than Hyperion’s coffee playground. The 10-kilo Ambex roaster centered against the back wall immediately draws the eye, while sacks of green coffee serve dual duty both as ingredient and decor. The polished copper countertops of the bar area contrast beautifully with the large community table made out of one solid slab of wood, cut lengthwise from the trunk of a large tree. With a space like this, you can see why Kubera, Mullins, and Merz see the space, as well as the coffees they're presenting, as Hyperion points of pride.
Currently, Hyperion is operating solely as a roastery, producing bags of coffee for individual sale to the community as well as for wholesale to businesses in the Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Detroit metro areas, like the Babo epicurean markets and sister restaurant Sava's. Other roasting-curious locals have also begun to lease time on the Ambex, like Ann Arbor-based The Espresso Bar. Though Hyperion let loose with espresso drinks and brewed coffees at their grand opening, the space is not currently operating as a cafe, nor was that a part of the trio's original plan. However, according to Mullins, that will most likely change soon, as they continue to grow their roasting operations. “Our intention in getting the space wasn’t actually to open a cafe here, but so many people have asked us for it,” Mullins explained. “It’s a community space, and we have to think about the best way that we can offer it up to the community.”
While they may not yet have the same acclaim or volume of a big-city coffee scene, the coffee professionals of Michigan certainly don’t lack in passion—both for coffee in general and for their local communities. This is evident everywhere, from the dedicated baristas at the small cafes to the ardent and hardworking owners of roasters around the state. Hyperion, it seems, is further evidence of the forthcoming, inevitable, and well-deserved critical mass of specialty coffee interest in Michigan, helping pave the way for Michigan as a specialty coffee powerhouse.
Tyler Bailey is a coffee professional living in Ypsilanti, Michigan. This is his first feature for Sprudge.
Photos by Erica Perry.