The Good Land, Cream City, Brew City, Small-waukee—a place of many names and a whole lot of personality. Recently dubbed the Midwest’s most underrated city, Milwaukee has finally emerged from Chicago’s wide-cast shadow as its own noteworthy hub. Home to the world’s largest music festival, more than 30 breweries, and an art museum so beautiful it is considered a work of art in and of itself, it’s no surprise that this city has amassed a fierce loyalty from its inhabitants, even if the rest of the country was slow to see the charm.
The erection of the Fiserv Forum, rejuvenated professional sports teams, and its hosting of the 2020 Democratic National Convention have put Milwaukee on the map in a big way, but it still retains its quirks and complexities. Here, vegan dining bumps elbows with affordable late-night chili, gay bars, and traditional German beer halls, and cheap light beer and craft fare are all enjoyed with equal fervor.
In a city so steeped in beer history and brewing culture, it makes sense that its people take a vested interest in their coffee. Local behemoths like Colectivo Coffee, Stone Creek Coffee, and Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. have helped develop a culture of coffee education and curiosity, and in recent years, the city has birthed a whole new generation of cafes committed to quality, experimentation, and community (some even serve beer, too). No matter where you go, you’re never far from a single origin pour-over, strong cold brew, or creamy, micro-foamed cappuccinos. Milwaukee’s coffee options are better than ever before, giving the nickname “Brew City” a new meaning.
Drive too fast and you might miss this humble, unsuspecting storefront. Situated on North Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, Pilcrow’s front-of-house is bright and clean, all light woods and red accents. The space is small, with only a handful of tables and two window-facing ledges, but a friendly staff, considerate customers and expertly crafted drinks make for an enjoyable, communal experience.
Established in 2017, Pilcrow became a fast favorite among coffee connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike, and at peak hours is bustling with Milwaukee’s Best Caffeinated. Its nationally renowned nitro cold brew flows freely year-round in Classic and Sweet n’ Creamy variations as well as seasonal iterations like Pumpkin Spice, Chocolate Creamy, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. If you prefer your coffee hot, the menu hosts traditional options featuring its award-winning espresso, single-origin pour-overs, and playful seasonal drinks like a coffee shake.
Dedicated to quality over quantity, Pilcrow’s hours are limited to weekends 8am to 2pm, but no worries there—the shop’s cold brew options can be found at various restaurants around the city, and its sister concept Interval operates seven days a week, serving coffee drinks as well as gourmet small plates and signature cocktails for the ultimate espresso experience. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the nitro cold brew bike slinging drinks at a street festival or sporting event.
Settled in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, a downtown neighborhood teeming with clothing boutiques, artisanal shops, and diverse dining options, Kickapoo Coffee is a much-needed refuge from the overstimulation and hyperactivity characteristic of city living. The space is proudly minimalist—all whites, blues, and browns, with a smattering of plants and flooded with warm, natural light—and its beauty has not gone unnoticed.
At Kickapoo, you can find rotating single-origin espresso and pour-over options alongside a brief yet comprehensive menu highlighting traditional coffee drinks with signature drinks, like its beloved espresso and tonic, available seasonally. Beyond the classics, the shop offers a balanced, spicy house-made chai, Rishi tea, and pastries, including a biscuit with honey butter that pairs deliciously with any cup of coffee.
For those behind the bar, passion for the industry is a must. Kickapoo’s baristas demonstrate an impressive knowledge of coffee and drink crafting, ensuring quality brews every time and thorough answers to any industry question.
A local operation through and through, Kickapoo boasts two other locations in Viroqua and Bayfield and a roasting facility in southwestern Wisconsin. Although Kickapoo will be changing its name some time this year, the brews are sure to be as outstanding as always.
Canary Coffee Bar
The culture of Canary Coffee Bar alone is enough to set this cafe apart from the rest. Founder Colin Whitcomb opened Canary with the intention to improve the ordering experience for customers and introduce diverse roast variations that can cater to and expand patrons’ palates. Located in the heart of Milwaukee’s Westown neighborhood, Canary Coffee Bar facilitates seated bar and table experiences for those who wish to sit and sip a while, allowing them to wait for their drinks in comfort.
A multi-roaster cafe, Canary sources beans from an array of coffee companies with the goal of curating a high-quality, diverse bean selection, though Madcap Coffee, another Midwest coffee staple, is their mainstay. The pour-over menu is expansive, housing around eight options at a time, constantly rotating to keep the city’s biggest caffeine fiends interested and to allow people a taste of coffee varieties beyond what they know they like.
If this sounds overwhelming, don’t fret—by ordering a coffee flight, customers can indulge in three different roasts without getting the shakes. The cafe’s autobrewers ensure quick service and consistent quality, and personable staff is happy to help customers search the menu for the perfect picks.
Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern
According to the Whitney and Wolfgang Schaefer, owners of Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern, beer goes with breakfast—and so does a cup of thoughtfully brewed coffee.
A cozy breakfast and lunch concept nestled in Milwaukee’s historic Brewer’s Hill neighborhood, Uncle Wolfie’s specializes in contemporary twists on tried-and-true brunch dishes, featuring menu items like a pulled pork breakfast burrito and the BELCH—a bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato, and cheese sandwich.
Although a food joint first and foremost, the folks here know their way around their La Marzocco, which is displayed prominently on the space’s wraparound bar. Uncle Wolfie’s brews a special blend of Anodyne Coffee unique to the tavern and sticks to a small list of classic drinks. Try as you may, you’d be hard-pressed to find another spot that puts as much consideration into a shot of espresso as it does its eggs benedict.
Venture down the hall and you’ll find Orange & Blue Co., a small retail shop comprised of curated handcrafted and vintage pieces. After filling up on cool comfort food and a cortado, peruse the wide selections of leather handbags, accessories, perfumes and other lifestyle-oriented products to experience your ideal Sunday morning all in one stop.
Vennture Brew Co.
Before opening Vennture Brew Co., founders Simon McConico, Rob Gustafson, and Jake Rhode were not in the coffee or beer business. Rather, they were photographers with a curious streak and desire for connection. The trio set out to combine the atmosphere of a coffee shop with the friendliness of a bar—something any good Milwaukeean knows well. The end product: a roastery-cum-brewery-cum-bar-cum-cafe that does a lot, and does it well.
The space reflects an open attitude, complete with garage doors opening up to a patio in warm months, traditional bar seating and an impressive board game collection. Events like jazz nights, Oktoberfest, and cribbage leagues pop up frequently, inviting neighbors, friends, and fans to come together and enjoy each other’s company with a brew (coffee or ale) in hand.
Vennture’s coffee menu is short and sweet, with pour-over options, cold brew, and espresso being the main pulls. Drawing from the idea of a rotating tap list at a bar, the spot offers a small but diverse rotating coffee list comprised solely of single origins, and the staff is always eager to chat with customers and give tailored recommendations. After coffee, try out one of the house-brewed beer options or a Hatched bakery item to round out the experience.
Anna Story is a freelance journalist based in Milwaukee. This is Anna Story's first feature for Sprudge.