Warehoused and Wonderful

Almost hidden from view, and situated in the most non-descript location imaginable, Anthology Coffee fixes itself alongside the deteriorating train tracks which use to service nearby Michigan Central Station and straddles the border of Hubbard-Richard and the West Side Industrial districts of Detroit. The space itself is part of a larger warehouse and social organization known as Ponyride, which operates as a non-profit, offering space for entrepreneurs, artists, other non-profits and any other organization aimed at enhancing the social fabric of Detroit.

The 50+ occupying tenants of this newly developed 30,000 square-foot building offer vastly different services. You can receive personal coaching, request digital marketing services and even buy balm for your boyfriend’s unwieldy beard.

An organization called Detroit Soup I found to be the most interesting tenant: you pay five bucks, get soup, salad and bread, and then listen to four different presenters discuss their ideas for a variety of local projects ranging from education, social justice and art, among others. The winner is then selected by voting and receives the soup-funding to help pursue his or her project.

This social/creative/entrepreneur community creates the perfect opportunity to launch a unique and exciting coffeehouse in a relatively unfamiliar and seemingly disregarded area of Detroit.

img_0278

As you approach the building you’ll find two doors for Anthology—one is a traditional grey warehouse door, camouflaged by graffiti, while the other is glass and sits framed between rows of wooden planks. Entering from the door on the right, you’ll discover the barista bar smackdab in the middle of the space, propped up on an industrial cart, which at first glance resembles more of a chemistry setup than a coffee station.

With the barista weighing, grinding, measuring and pouring right in the center of the café, Anthology manages to give off an appearance of approachability, while at the same time striking fear into the timid and introverted individual. That is to say I think some would find it charming that the barista is so freely accessible and not behind a counter, while others might feel apprehension about the unusual arrangement. However, don’t hesitate to approach the coffee island and ask the barista about their offerings, as there is no menu to order from.

Once you order and try to find a seat, you’ll notice conversation is almost encouraged as the seating is close together and limited to a few tables. This persistence of social interaction, albeit somewhat forced, seems to be a theme, and whether accidental or not, I felt comfortable and really enjoyed it. If you’re not into engaging a stranger and prefer solidarity while tapping on your mobile (which seems a to be an increasingly depressing norm), you’ll at least find the funky music flowing from the record player to be a distinct and refreshing change from some other coffeehouses.

img_0272

I would describe Anthology then much like the space out of which it operates; it’s out of the ordinary and conducts itself in a fashion much like an experiment. Further evidence of this is found in the serve-ware. I saw some coffee prepared and delivered in a 500mL Erlenmeyer flask, while the cream arrived in its own test tube.

The people behind Anthology have established themselves as a spirited spot to grab a cup of coffee. The atmosphere is bright and energetic, while the place as a whole deserves acknowledgment for its creativity. The location is definitely hidden from the casual passerby, although it’s not out of the way entirely if you’re anywhere near downtown Detroit. It’s simply tucked away in a quiet corner of the city, away from the hustle. I would include this spot in your midweek plans if you’re feeling sluggish and could use a lift to make it through to Friday.

Quiet Contradiction

If you trace Michigan Avenue westbound from downtown Detroit you will notice a continued revival of the oldest surviving neighborhood in the city–Corktown. Once represented by a majority of Irish immigrants, Corktown roughly takes its name from County Cork, Ireland, from where these newly pledged Americans made their mass emigration following the Great Famine of the 1840’s. Corktown saw its neighborhood reduced mid-20th century after land redevelopment and business relocation efforts gave way to projects such as the old Tiger Stadium (since demolished), Michigan Central Station (since abandoned) and Lodge and Fisher Freeways.

Nowadays, some of the best eateries Detroit offers have begun to twist their way through Michigan Avenue; one of the best examples is Slow’s Bar BQ, which opened in 2005 and is now anchoring what has become a food-loving corridor. Many others followed suit and
have since made this stretch of Corktown a popular destination for locals and out-of-towners alike.

The revival of this area drew enough attention that in 2011, a pair of burgeoning coffee devotees opened Astro Coffee. International experience, like at the esteemed London Monmouth Coffee Company, has given the owners ample exposure to the industry and international experience they needed to open a now highly revered coffee shop.

img_0250

Blending antique furnishings with modern fixtures, the
space inside the shop reflects the same characteristics as the neighborhood itself. The design feels deliberate, especially with the choice of materials.You will notice the mismatched wooden tables and chairs woven together with expansive new white countertops and subway tiling; wood flooring and exposed brick give heightened contrast to modern pendant lighting and sleekly polished coffee machinery.

Astro Coffee really delivers with its friendly, relaxed and down-to-earth attitude. In a modern coffee world often predicated on snobbery and intimidation, Astro Coffee then is a distinct revelation in showmanship and quality, without a whiff of arrogance.

img_1452

Knowing that the two creators had practiced their craft abroad, specifically for a time in Sydney, I opted for their flat white. For those unaware, this specialty is relatively new to the US consumer and is often the point of some controversy.

img_0229You can find heaps of sources on the proper way to prepare one and the location as to its origins. The hottest debate fixes the flat white originator in the 1980’s between Sydney, Australia and Wellington, New Zealand. I found my flat white to be controversy-free and delicious; the warmth and vibrancy of the orange colored beverage provided the perfect balance to a frigid and grey Detroit Sunday. So, if you’re in the Corktown neighborhood and wish to be delighted, stop by Astro Coffee. The approachable style and developed craft make it a genuinely fun experience.

Pre-Departure Ritual

The end of 2016 and start of the new year found me in Baltimore. Since I was to fly out of Detroit Metro, I decided to allow some extra time to revisit my first coffee experience in the city. That first cup was poured at Germack Coffee Roasting Co. back in 2014 and I’ve since visited a handful of times–more often than not picking up a local roast before I hop a flight to a friend’s for the weekend. I tend to think of it as coffee for a couch.

Germack is situated in the Eastern Market neighborhood of Detroit. There’s food trucks serving up tacos and slinging your favorite BBQ. Fresh produce, meats, cheeses and other organics abound. If you’re not hungry or didn’t come for the food, it’s recommended you check out the local community art projects, specifically, the murals. Eastern Market has some of the most spectacular you can find; carefully crafted and running the whole length of countless buildings, they’re nearly impossible to miss. An organization called Murals in the Market exists to highlight these and bring attention to the great work the community is doing to share both the Eastern Market and Detroit’s rich histories, while no doubt enhancing the traditional market experience.

The real Germack is actually Germack Pistachio Company, and is the oldest roster of pistachios in the United States. It was started by two brother immigrants in New York and fast expanded into Detroit, which was in 1920 the fourth most populous city in the U.S and booming from the auto industry.

img_0197
Nowadays they have expanded their offerings to all different types of nuts, chocolates, and spices. Oh, and lest we forget, they roast and serve coffee, too! The space of the store reserved for coffee has a warm and inviting feeling. There’s an authentic feel to the place, with red brick walls, rustic wood shelving and cracked and discolored cement flooring.

Operating the coffee side of the business since 2012, their offerings are what you’d come to expect in a small batch, local shop. Both single origin and blended variety are represented from all the major coffee growing regions of the world–extending from the Mayan ruins in Chiapas, Mexico, to the tropical and volcanic island of Sumatra. As always, if you know your preference based on region or style, it makes the decision easier. I on the other hand am always indecisive, so at the recommendation of one of the baristas I decided on a single origin Ethiopian pour over.

img_0170

While waiting for the Yirgacheffe brew, I looked through the half open “Dutch” door and into the roasting room. Huge sacks of stacked beans piled atop one another accounted for most of the roasting square footage. After looking over the markings on the sacks, my thoughts of the coffee supply chain were abruptly and delightfully interrupted, as the barista let me know my coffee was ready. Cup in hand, I wandered around the counter and sat myself at a small table, situated next to a floor to ceiling display of spices. Everything from acai berry powder to kava kava root was shelved.

At this point I could begin to describe the aroma and taste of the coffee, what notes it displayed and what obscure Swiss chocolate and elderberry combination it reminded me of. But for one, my palate does not offer such a fine detection; and two, even if I could perfectly describe the roast, it does little to offer the reader much palatable satisfaction. So, in place of this I will give the coffee a bean rating out of five whole beans. The single origin Ethiopian then gets a 3 out of 5 beans. I’ve tasted better in the past from Germack, but was by no stretch disappointed. If I had more time before my flight I definitely would’ve tried the Guatemalan medium-roast from the Panchoy valley of Antigua. Next time.

There you have it. Germack Coffee Roasting Co. is a fine choice for a great cup of coffee in a store that offers a varied selection of not just coffee, but other delicious treats. Its proximity to the Eastern Market also doubles as a terrific neighborhood to explore for a few hours on a laid back Saturday afternoon.

Beans and Things

First time poster, long time procrastinator.

Here’s the (tall) and short of it: I like coffee. A lot. The closest major city to me right now is Detroit. That’s it. For right now those two nouns are going to be the singular focus for future writings here.

The upcoming months will see some weekend time dedicated to sampling as many independent coffee shops within the city of Detroit.

Check out the map to see the area where I will start up. Yeah sure there’s probably some really rad bean barns outside this area, but this is where I’m focusing my hunt for now.

Pour a cup, change the filter and check back in the next weeks for the (real) first post!