Thursday, September 17, 2015

Coffeetown, Michigan: The 5 Best Coffee Places in Ann Arbor


    Like any college town, Ann Arbor is chock full of coffee shops, each serving up its own unique take on the black and hot yet all brimming with students, laptops and textbooks. The artistic and slightly eccentric tones that make Ann Arbor the unique city manifest themselves into a widespread and thriving coffee culture. With everything from national chains to small batch roasters all packed within mere blocks, it's no wonder that Treetown has taken on an identity as one of the Midwest's premiere coffee destinations.

    With so many options so close by, I set off on a mission: taste the best Ann Arbor's coffee scene has to offer in order to answer, once and for all, the age old question on every college student's mind: "Where should I get coffee?"

Combining taste with several other factors including atmosphere, price, mug size (an important one for poor college students), and overall experience determined by personal ranking below. Without further ado, here are The 5 Best Coffee Places in Ann Arbor. 

    Lab is, first and foremost, not a coffee shop - Lab takes special attention to call itself an urban café. In addition to its famous coffee and tea selection, there is both a lunch menu and various beer and wine options on order. Located on East Liberty St, the café is within easy walking distance of the University and also hosts a rotating yogurt bar, pastries, and loose leaf tea.

    Upon my entrance, I saw a chalkboard sign advertising their special of the day: a Brown Sugar Sea Salt Latte. My mouth instantly began to salivate and I knew what I would be ordering. The coffee shop is largely white walled, with shelves filled with small accessories. Lab has a decidedly minimalist feel to it: colors are flat, lighting is dim, and speakers play 80's synth hits as you sip. There are few places to sit, but I managed to grab a spot at the bar, which made for an ideal people watching location.

    My drink (which the barista advised me to order iced) was delicious! Unfortunately, it came in at a steep $4.25. The perfect combination of sweet with a hint of salt, I drank it quickly but was disappointed all too soon by the shallow glass given how much I had paid.

    A great drink in a cool setting, but the steep price and limited seating make it just a tad too much for any frequent visits. That being said, go and try the Brown Sugar Sea Salt Latte! A visit to Lab makes for a wonderful treat after a long day or difficult midterm. 

    Up next: The Espresso Bar.  Located above the world-famous Literati Bookstore on Washington Street, this petit cafe is the perfect location for a book and a drink!

    Climb up the stairs and you’ll be taken from book heaven to coffee heaven. The Espresso Bar hosts a small selection of coffee drinks and baked goods. The shop is also in the same place as the children’s section of Literati. Large bay windows provide an excellent and serene image of the city of Ann Arbor.

    I ordered a small cappuccino ($3.25 - a fair price) and was told to find a seat while my drink was prepared. In perhaps the polar opposite of the classic coffee counter format, I was actually served my drink! It was nice to relax and get right into reading rather than elbow for space in a packed line, waiting for someone to mispronounce my name.

    Then, there was the drink: my cappuccino couldn’t have been more perfect for what I was looking for. Foamy and warm with an intricate and impressive leaf design, it was the ideal companion to my novel of choice.

    The only fault is very limited seating and far from enough power outlets to go around. On a busy work day, you'll likely wait to plug in or even sit. In summary, The Espresso Bar is an inviting environment serving up fantastic drinks and made with book lovers in mind. The next time you stop in Literati for a new read, take the time to walk up the stairs and visit The Espresso Bar. The large and bright room makes for a lovely place to waste an afternoon away with your nose in a book.

    Third place goes to a Washtenaw County classic, a local chain with many different locations in and around Ann Arbor: Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea.

    Sweetwaters is bright, welcoming, and generally cheery - the opposite of many larger coffee chains. They have a large menu of coffee and tea drinks accompanied by a truly impressive selection of desserts: macaroons, tiramisu, cakes and quiche to name a few. An expansive seating selection and their brick walls give the shop an industrial, yet inviting vibe. And, there are more than enough outlets to go around! I can just imagine how great Sweetwaters must be for group projects.

    I opted for a small latte, which cost a mere $2.70 (the cheapest of any drinks so far!); therefore, I couldn’t resist from picking from their assortment of macaroons and putting all those savings to good use! One dark chocolate macaroon cost $1.40 and to be completely honest, it was the most enjoyable $1.40 I’ve ever spent. The macaroon tasted fresh and was very soft. The latte, which came in a mug that was almost twice the size of The Espresso Bar, was warm, comforting and foamy. While it lacked any foam design, it tasted great and definitely won the quantity battle - a perfect choice for the student on a budget.

   Sweetwaters is a coffee shop designed with students in mind. It’s a great place to study or to catch up with friends. A quieter environment, I would recommend setting up your laptop and study the afternoon away at Sweetwaters—after you have a dark chocolate macaroon, of course.

    Who hasn’t heard of Espresso Royale? With their popular, student-friendly specials like "Latte Wednesdays" (any latte, any size for only $2) and $1.25 coffee refills, Espresso Royale truly knows what their primarily undergraduate clientele wants: good brew at a fair price, and lots of it. A large coffee shop with little lighting and relaxing music, it is the perfect place to meet to mingle with friends or study alone.

    A seasoned Espresso Royale customer, I have developed a sincere “coffee-ship” (coffee friendship) with some of the baristas. Perhaps that’s what I believe sets Espresso apart from other coffee shops in Ann Arbor. The baristas are always accommodating and even inquire about what mug their customers would prefer to have their coffee served in.

    I opted for a small Americano, priced at $1.80. Served in a slim glass mug, their coffee is rich and warm. Espresso has a full coffee bar complete with simple syrup and other coffee making essentials. Moody music fills the large coffee shop. Wooden tables, couches and chairs are available for customers to pick at their choosing.

    On a busy September day, you'll hear everything from friendly conversation to intense MCAT study sessions as you sip from the comfort of a big, cushy couch - this is truly the place where Ann Arbor convenes. Espresso Royale is the perfect meeting spot for a study session, gossip session or a rejuvenating contemplative session. Their coffees are high quality and priced generously. 

    The moment you've all been waiting for: in first place, Comet Coffee! A small space tucked away in the storied Nickle's Arcade, Comet Coffee embodies everything that's good about the town of Ann Arbor and its coffee culture.

    Comet can get very busy - and a little claustrophobic - during coffee “rush hour” aka: weekends and mornings. However, at off times, it is the ideal place for a mid-afternoon calming session fueled by some of the best coffee you'll ever taste. They have a small—yet extremely high quality—selection of pastries and desserts up front, but its the coffee and the community that gathers there that truly sets Comet apart. 

    Comet Coffee has always had a special place in my heart, and I credit it as the place responsible for my love of all things espresso. I paid $2.60 for my small espresso, which came with a glass of fizzy water (you can also opt for flat). The baristas are very skilled and are always willing to shed insight on any part of the coffee-making process, from bean to machine and everything in between.

    Great drinks, wonderful space, knowledgeable baristas, and a supportive community that gathers around the tiny shop whenever possible: while every coffee shop certainly has its special qualities, Comet Coffee has them all. It is for that reason that I can proudly declare it my best coffee shop in Ann Arbor.


     Let my ranking serve as an encouragement for you to venture onto the streets of Ann Arbor to form your own list of the best coffee shops in our amazing city. Best of luck, and happy sipping!

~Carly N. -Women's Fashion


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