The Detroit Coffee Scene in 2019

This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Michigan during a work trip. As usual, I couldn’t resist trying out all the coffee shops I could set my eyes on. As old-fashioned and labor-intensive as it sounds, going and visiting the stores in person and speaking to the owners and staff has consistently been a worthwhile experience to me. Generally, the coffee industry in the United States is very open to sharing knowledge and quite frankly, visiting coffee shops can also sometimes be the best way to meet people and make new friends in the business.

My first stop in my work trip was in the Detroit area which was especially interesting to me considering Detroit’s popular view as an old and abandoned city. It was my first trip to the area, and I was surprised to learn Detroit’s close proximity to Canada which happened to be where my Airbnb was situated. I stayed in a small city in Canada called Windsor, which could be accessed from Detroit by a very unsuspecting tunnel bus that takes you to the immigration checkpoint.

Windsor appeared to me the type of city where everyone seemed to know each other. It was actually in this tiny area where I found my first gem of a coffee shop called The Coffee Exchange. It was a nice small shop where you might go to catch up with family members during a lazy weekend and hopefully see a familiar face or two. What really swept me off my feet was the care and skill with which they made their lattes. It was something I’ve never experienced in person before. It was almost as if stepping outside of the United States into Canada took things to another level. (Maybe there is a reason that Tim Horton’s own the heart of Canadians, rather than Dunkin Donuts)

Star-pattern latte at The Coffee Exchange, Windsor, Canada

I initially requested a light-roast pour-over, which was your typical temperature-controlled slow-drip pour. However, I also specially requested a custom art-work latte from the super-awesome barista, and she actually made a perfect, award-worthy star-shape latte! Not only was the artwork stunning, but I recall the flavor of the latte to be especially well-balanced. There were no artificial Starbuck’s syrupy flavors to it, and I could sip it all day long without getting a sugar overload. It was really on another level, as far as lattes go. Bravo.

Next, I stopped by in Detroit. A quick word about Detroit; I was surprised to see it is actually a fully up-and-running, perfectly functioning, not-abandoned city. Although there are poor areas around the outskirts of the town, down-town Detroit is absolutely popping. There are several startups and large companies situated there, along with the famed (or infamous) General Motors headquarters, and some casinos. Near the shoreline bordering Canada, there is a long boardwalk and park where events are frequently held. Interestingly, the cost of living is way below what it is compared with other cities of similar size, probably due to its history and reputation.

Oh sorry, back to the coffee. There were two shops near downtown that seemed to really stand out which I chose to visit. The first was called the Roasting Plant. This unique place right in the heart of downtown Detroit featured something called the ‘Javabot System’, which was a one-of-a-kind buy-your-own roasted/green coffee dispenser. In fact, the Javabot System allowed the barista to make espressos or pour-overs of any coffee they had in stock, just by the press of a couple buttons. Pretty mind-blowing. The staff here were really nice and were eager to just chat about their coffee system.

The Javabot Coffee System at The Roasting Plant, Detroit, Michigan

Next, I turned a couple of corners around the center of town near an alley where several high-end apparel boutiques were situated, and entered into a larger style coffee shop called Desert Oasis Coffee Roasters. This coffee shop featured the very essence of Detroit in every aspect; from the smooth concrete flooring, vast space, black coloring, and metal pipes running along the wall. I ordered a specialty pour-over coffee from Ethiopia, and they brought out chemistry-styled beakers placed on hotplates for an awesome presentation. 

Urban-themed sitting area at Desert Oasis Coffee Roasters, Detroit Michigan

Although I only was able to visit these few spots during my short stay, each place was unique and offered high quality coffee with an emphasis on specialty coffee. Honestly, specialty coffee is something that is still lacking in most cities in the United States, however there was certainly no shortage in Detroit.

As the saying I saw some people sporting on their t-shirts goes, “Detroit. No one likes us. We don’t care.” Regardless of what you may have heard about the city, I would definitely deem it a bucket-list location for coffee wanderers.

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