From coast to coast, the best coffee roast: Best POC coffeeshops in the West North Central region

8 mins read

Modest-sized cities in the Midwest have been attracting people leaving large metropolises for something more manageable. With the migrations come the change of neighborhoods. These coffeeshops work to highlight the diverse populations and brew choices in the area.

The shifting demographic in the Midwest shows that the region is no longer your grandmother’s prairie town. From Chicago to Detroit, the Midwest is experiencing a migration of brown and Black immigrants that literally are changing the complexion of areas of the flat plains that historically were white. With the change comes culture, and some of that culture is embedded into coffee.

Upper Cup Coffee Co.: Columbus, OH

In Eritrea, coffee is more than a warm brewed bean. Drinking coffee is a daily ritual interwoven as an intricate part culture. So much so, that the women of Eritrea (and its sister country, Ethiopia) partake in a traditional ceremony called Boon. During the custom, beans are roasted and crushed on the spot then boiled and served. While making coffee from scratch, participants engage in formal and informal conversations.

Upper Cup Coffee Co. brings together methodical, ceremonial styles of Eritrean coffee preparation together with fast-paced American consumerism in order to create a multicultural, down to earth ambiance for all who walk through their doors.

Opened in October 2011 by Michael Habte, an Eritrean immigrant, it has two locations–one in downtown Columbus and the other in a suburb called Gahanna. The artisans of coffee also offers a spacious interior often used for live performances between business hours. The exposed brick wall gives off a very rustic vibe that gives customers peace of mind while beautiful Eritrean art and cultural pieces decorate the walls in a way that makes people feel as if they’d stepped into another country.

The coffee itself is smooth, relaxing experience that helps give the coffeehouse a signature flavor with each sip. And the beans are sourced from international vendors Nicaragua and Ethiopia, respectively.

Habte and his team treat their coffee as carefully and respectfully as the people of Eritreawith each serving showing the café’s pride and dedication to their work. Its intoxicating, beckoning aroma that draws in anyone who enters the café. And the taste, so rich and dark, it gives both a calming and energizing sensation that rejuvenates the soul.

As for the café’s coffee prices, staffer Mickey Shuman explains that “All of our prices are super affordable, which helps make getting good coffee accessible to those who can’t afford to go to places like Starbucks. Our prices also help make our customers feel comfortable being here, as they don’t have to break the bank to get a good cup of coffee.”

Added to the drinks is a food menu that includes people with dietary or allergy restrictions. The café accommodates all type of foodies because their menu consists of food for all types of customers. A delicious bite is the pineapple, ham and habanero sandwich, which is a sweet and spicy meal complementing the fine brew served.

Plus, Upper Cup is easy on the pockets. Being affordable in a college town, The Ohio State University, which is about 3.5 miles away, also boosts the popularity of the café. Moreover, the café’s staff reflects the range of regulars that pass through Upper Cup Coffee Co.

Currency Exchange Café: Chicago IL

Currency Exchange Cafe staff

In Southside’s Washington Parkexists a careful curation of the perfect mesh of different cultures coming from opposite sides of the world in Currency Exchange Café.

A mix of American, Mexican, and Filipino cuisine, Currency Exchange brings a unique atmosphere in which customers enter into a shop juxtaposed from the cold, windy Chicago days. Once entering, you feel more of a south-of-the-equator coffee house informed by the Chi-Town swag.

Opened in 2014, by owner artist, professor and community planner, Theaster Gates, he wanted the café to be place where people from different walks of life could come together to exchange ideas and share different cultural experiences with others.

It’s rustic, wooden, beach house-like interior gives off a sensation of openness for people to talk freely, without feeling constrained by Chicago city life. It really takes you to the sandy beaches that are found in countries such as Mexico, the Philippines, and the coastal states of America. And the library collection on the second floor also helps with providing mental stimulation and discussion amongst patrons.

When asked about how the café helps their customers feel at home, shop manager Sidney Johnson, says, “Every time someone comes through the front door, you automatically hear ‘hello, how are you, welcome to the café’ from either our barista or register. The furniture itself is all original work created by our boss. So it helps bring in a sense of originality and creativity into the café while also helping our customers feel comfortable and welcomed.”

Thanks to the setup of the interior, Currency Exchange Café has the feeling of a seventeenth century salon, the eclectic, arts-driven space also stimulates intellectual and cultural growth.

As for the coffee itself, it is locally sourced from Back of the Yards Coffee Co. which provides beans that give every serving of coffee, a robust taste with unexpected flavor profiles.

Detroit Sip, Detroit, MI

If there is any place that truly represents its city’s roots and culture, then look no further than Detroit Sip. Every part of the café, from the construction to the building itself, to its culinary products, to even staffare all community-based and come straight from “The D.”

Owned and run by Jevona Watson, she opened Detroit Sip on November 18, 2017. The store’s purpose was to exemplify what Detroit is and to help give outsiders a better understanding of the often underrated Motor City. When asked about why she opened her café, Watson explained, “It was my desire to give college students from the University of Detroit and Marygrove College a place to go and experience what life is like in northwest Detroit as opposed to the gated communities of the college campuses.”

The modern, yet simplistic interior of the café provides a blank canvas to feature local artists. Chalkboard menus announcing latest beverages and positive, along with affirmation graffitied on vibrant-colored tables, the café’s design shows city’s ongoing redevelopment minus the encroaching hipsters feel and displaced Detroiters, like the joints in Brooklyn.

To cycle money back to Detroit, all materials and ingredients used in the café are locally sourced from small businesses stationed in Detroit. Everything from the coffee to the food and sweetsall are locally sourced in the Detroit area. With the café, the feeling of authenticity and dedication to the community is evident in its owner, Watson, who prides in her venture and her city.

Even though Detroit Sip is still a new business, it has gained much support from the community thanks to the dedication the staff’s café and the push by its customers via social media. The price of the food itself is affordable, allowing the everyday resident or visitor to treat themselves to a coffee and a snack. To show its budget-friendly focus, the most expensive menu item seems to be their mount caramel macchiato, which is priced at $4.25. As well, its modest-priced menu is perfect for college students that come visit the café whose budgets are less than ideal.

Not only is the menu affordable, but also mouth-watering. From delectable, sweet brownies and cheese cakes to savory, hot soups and chili, Detroit Sip’s culinary menu items provide satisfaction and delight with every bite. The coffee is also a representation of Detroit as it is sourced from local sellers in the Detroit area. It’s delicious and energizing brew of coffee that helps refuel the citizens of Detroit

The café also takes into consideration of the varied eating preferences of its clientele—from providing vegan menu items to accommodating for anyone with special needs or disabilities. True to its style, Detroit Sip takes in all members of the community and makes people feel included and united when they enter this establishment.

Urban Joe Café, West Allis, WI

Within the small town of West Allis, you will find a hidden gem that believes in quality over everything else. Urban Joe Café is a place whose food and drinks are made with the passion and love that chefs have when working in their craft.

What makes Urban Joe stick out from other cafés in the Midwest is that it has integrated West Coast style café designs, which are usually made for hot weather climates, into the often freezing state of Wisconsin. Jedi mind trick done well.

Established in 2013 by owner Joe Tairi, he came up with the idea to create a West Coast-themed café in West Allis after seeing then being inspired by coffee houses on the other side of the country. So he brought it to his hometown.

One popular way customers can enjoy Urban Joe Café is when they dine out on the pedlet where customers can eat their food out in the warm, summer atmosphere. The set up encourages customers to experience something that is not commonly found in Wisconsin due to the long, cold weather that plagues the state.

As for the food, the café maintains a balance of quality taste and healthiness in every meal they serve, which also helps to serve people who have dietary and restrictions. Since the food is locally sourced, it is naturally grown and delivered from farm to table with no chemical or biological alterations.

The crepes are examples of food products being made with natural, locally sourced ingredients and have sold well and established a unique trait for the café. Their warm, fluffy texture and sweet, fruity ingredients are what draw customers to this delicious dish and make them crave for it. With the artisan quality of the food and the way it encourages an interactive environment, Urban Joe Café brings culture and high-quality comfort beverages and food that are worth the stop in.

As for the coffee, it is varied between brews that are used for recreational drinking and those that are needed for an extra boost after working long hours. The red eye is a particularly interesting coffee, known for its ability to provide an extra kick of energy when someone desperately needs it. As for something to help bring someone down, the right loose leaf tea can aid in de-stressing the most tense tea drinker.

The coffee itself is also special in that the café uses something called, the suspended coffee program, which allows people to help others by paying forward for people who cannot afford to buy a cup of coffee themselves. It is a program made to help communities unite and help each other when they are down on their luck. And with the low prices Urban Joe Café provides for its coffee consumers, the system pays off in terms helping the community.

Honorable Mentions

Sip & Savor: Chicago, IL

A modest-sized, chain of coffee houses serving high-end beans is known as “the black Starbucks,” in the Southside. Owner Alexander Pugh works on including local residents in the revitalization that is taking place in the area through hiring local and partnering with private and public entities that serve to develop the community with inclusion. One of his locations is in Hyde Park, the area that Barack and Michelle Obama’s Chicago house sits.

Urbean Joe Coffee: East Cleveland, OH

Grammy-award winning artist Joe Little, from the group Rude Boys, decided to cast his net in another sea by opening an independent coffee brand and coffee shop in 2009 named Urbean Joe Coffee. Now Little goes by Joey Beanz. Urbean sits On St. Claire in East Cleveland, Little wanted to build something in the community he reared. Not only does he roast and sell coffee, he also performs extensive grassroots campaigns such as giving out food or school supplies.

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Pedro Guarin is a junior reporter.

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