Sunday, 06 December 2015 20:37

Where to Find Premium, Hand-Crafted Coffee in Grand Rapids

Written by  Kristen Guilbert
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When entering a coffee shop, one is welcomed by the warm and comforting aroma of richly roasted beans and fresh, brewed coffee. The cozy and aromatic atmosphere entices the senses and the first sip of an artfully crafted beverage brings the utmost satisfaction. 

While Grand Rapids is known for its selection of breweries, the city’s flourishing selection of independently owned coffee shops bring in a caffeine-seeking crowd that is just as passionate. Here are a few to get you started.

Mayan Buzz

From humble beginnings, this culturally rich coffee shop sprouted from owner Marco Medina’s passion for his Central American roots.

“We have a lot of heart,” said Mary Rose, co-owner of Mayan Buzz. “Marco and I opened this just based on a dream and not a lot of money.”

Through hard work and perseverance, they brought the Mayan Buzz to life in September 2013 and created an open and accepting atmosphere for the coffee lovers of Grand Rapids.

The Mayan Buzz is just another unique link in the ever-growing Grand Rapids coffee-lovers community.

“The coffee scene here is as vibrant as the beer scene,” Rose said. “All of the shops are different in their own ways, and there’s enough room for all of them.”

The shop specializes in Central American coffees, as well as Mayan inspired signature drinks, like their Spicy Mayan Mocha, made of spicy dark chili chocolate, espresso, milk and cayenne pepper. Another drink is their Frozen Horchata, a coconut and cinnamon frozen drink much like the traditional Central American rice drink. They also serve delicious breakfast sandwiches and have open mic nights for poets and singers around the city.

Cold brew coffee is another popular addition to the menu. It is brewed for 18-24 hours. “It has a super intense, rich flavor with a huge caffeine pack,” Rose said. The cold brew is a good option for those seeking some extra caffeine.

As for the vibe, Rose said the shop brings in a variety of people throughout the day. “It’s one of those non-judgmental, welcoming places where people can come in and be themselves,” Rose said. “A lot of people have said that Mayan Buzz is like their living room. It creates community and a neighborhood feel.”

Recommended Drink: Mayan Mocha, $5.65

208 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

Sun.–Wed., 24 hours, Thurs.–Sat., 6 a.m.–Midnight, (616) 608-3052


Well known for its specialty coffee, Madcap opened in 2008 and was built on the strong foundation of a love for the coffee shop experience.

Madcap is different from many other local coffee shops because they source and roast all of their coffee beans. Co-owner Ryan Knapp spends time traveling across the globe seeking out the best available coffee while building relationships with the farmers and importers.

“Specialty isn’t just a froufrou term,” said retail operations manager Ryan Wojton. “It’s actually a term referring to the grading scale of coffee. It is rated on a zero to 100 scale and anything above 80 is considered specialty.”

Madcap standards are to work with some of the best coffee in the world and to make sure the best sourcing and quality in all of its ingredients is being provided.

They source their milk from local dairies and make their own almond milk. They ensure the ingredients that aren’t made at Madcap are made with the same care that Madcap uses for their coffee.

“We roast our beans on the lighter side to draw out the best flavors in our coffee,” Wojton said.

Most of the coffee at Madcap is brewed by the cup, but small batches are also available for people who don’t have time to wait. Along with coffee, they also serve traditional espresso drinks.

The baristas at Madcap are methodically trained to serve coffee, starting with just the register, then brewing coffee and eventually the manual espresso machine. This usually takes around a year before workers become espresso certified.

Wojton said their regulars span from business professionals to college students in search of classy caffeine.

“It’s a mix between lawyers and financial advisors, college students and hipsters,” he said. “You can’t argue with quality. It’s not something only young people will understand. If someone likes good coffee, they’re going to like it here.”

Recommended Drink: Café Miel (latte with cinnamon and raw honey,) $4.75

98 Monroe Center NW, Grand Rapids
Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat., 8 a.m.–7 p.m., Sun., 10 a.m.–3 p.m., (888) 866-9091

The Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newsstand

Established in 2007, The Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newsstand has a vintage vibe and is located in what was once a historic hardware store.

The Sparrows serves fair trade, Madcap traditional espresso. They have Madcap brewed coffee and also serve brewed coffee from a rotating guest roaster.

“We were trained by the folks at Madcap to serve their coffee to the best of our abilities,” said owner Lori Slager Wenzel. “We weigh out our espresso as specific and scientifically as possible to create the best results.”

Delightful, high-quality coffee drinks are not all that The Sparrows has to offer. They make two of their own simple syrups in house: Plain and lavender. The shop also carries a variety of tea blends, uniquely displayed for customers’ convenience.

“We have around 70 or more tea options,” Wenzel said. “All of our teas are from Michigan-based distributers. We try to serve products that are as local and high quality as possible.”

They also make their own chai tea in the store, which is featured in their popular seasonal drink called Chaider. This is a blend of chai and cider, steamed together to create a delightful apple cinnamon drink for the fall. It is usually available from Labor Day to Thanksgiving.

One feature that sets The Sparrows apart from other independently owned coffee shops in the city is its newsstand. Offered are an array of magazines, ranging from literary journals to self-published poetry, fashion magazines and current events. “The magazines are a fun way to bring in new people,” Wenzel said.

And when it comes to local competition, Wenzel said it’s more of a family affair.

“Everyone has their own unique specialties that they offer that are different from what everyone else has,” she said. “Coffee shop people are coffee shop people. They don’t just go to one – all of our regulars are everyone else’s regulars. I don’t view the other shops as competitors. We’re all kind of in this together.”

Recommended Drink: Dirty Harry (an earl grey tea latte with honey and soy milk), $4.75

1035 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

Mon.–Fri., 6:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun., 9 a.m.–10 p.m., (616) 608-3375

Rowster Coffee

Prior to having its own storefront, Rowster Coffee began in the back room of a gallery in Grand Rapids. At that time, its function was primarily roasting beans. It started as a tasting room and evolved into a hip and comfortable café.

Kaitlynn Broadbooks, barista and event coordinator, explained what Rowster specializes in.

“Our beans are the special part, as well as our unique roasting style.”

Rowster prepares espresso-based drinks and pour-over coffee for their brew bar. Its beans tend to stay on the light to medium roast level. This brings out natural flavors and unique aromas.

“Everything is fresh and we really try to treat each person as they walk in with a unique experience,” Broadbooks said. “We just want you to leave feeling like you had the best, not only cup of coffee, but interaction and full café experience.

“We love when people come in here and geek out about coffee,” she added. “We like to teach customers new brew methods and talk to them about why our roasting is special.”

The staff at Rowster is small and very passionate about coffee — they’re willing to spread their knowledge.

“The atmosphere creates a welcoming and learning experience,” Broadbooks said. “We want it to be very educational for people if they want it to be. I hope eager people are brought in — whether it’s coffee enthusiasts or people who just really like good coffee.”

Recommended Drink: Pour-over, $4

632 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids
Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., (616) 780-7777

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