2017 was an interesting year in coffee for me. I started the year off in a sprint but by the time I got to Denver in August, I was burned out and needed to take a break from overthinking the minutia coffee shops. This year I made pilgrimages to Detroit, Denver, and San Antonio adding about 15-20 new shops to my already extensive list. Seattle and Portland were on the itinerary for September of 2017 as well, but unfortunately Hurricane Harvey forced me to focus my attention on rebuilding both my home and my business. Fingers crossed for this trip happening in 2018!
One thing that stood out this year in contrast to the past few was the number of bad experiences I had. There were a lot of apathetic baristas and soulless Starbucks clones in 2017, but one shop left me bitter enough to shine a spotlight on it.
Worst of 2017 – Brown Coffee Co
San Antonio, TX
My clearest memory for Brown Coffee Co was just how pretentious the baristas were. I believe snobbery and ego kill any kind of community, it pushes away people who want to learn and just makes you look like a jerk in the process. What’s worse is that talking with these baristas, they were on about the same level as me as far as coffee industry familiarity/knowledge goes. The pretentiousness was based on the ignorance of others rather than personal achievement which speaks to insecurity and a need to prove themselves rather than a confidence in who they are and what they do. It’s like a college grad bragging about their sociology degree; it’s respectable but it doesn’t make you special and by no means should be a lens through which you judge others. It’s hard for me to say if it’s the fault of the baristas individually because there are practices that suggest it is part of the shop’s culture. Little things such as not offering cream or sugar, calling it espresso w/ milk and not a latte, social media bigotry, all of these make the business (and the craft coffee community by proxy) unapproachable to outsiders. Whether it’s the fault of the business or the individual, I walked away from this place almost sharing Gen X’s disdain for beards, flannel, and all things hipster.
With that out of my system, let’s get back to focusing on the highlights of last year. Out of all the shops I visited, I believe these three in particular deserve special recognition. Here they are in alphabetical order.
Hyperion – 8.6/10
I’m a sucker for small town craft coffee. For me, it’s a high to find a coffee shop that impresses me in the middle of nowhere. A venture inspired by the Detroit disloyalty card, Hyperion was a pit stop on my way to Ann Arbor. Set in a colonial styled warehouse in the lightly wooded, tiny town of Ypsilanti, Hyperion feels like it moves at a slower pace. The pretentious or showy atmosphere that traditionally accompanies craft coffee is absent here. They don’t try to wow you with flashy design or opulent displays of swag; it feels more down to earth and casual which is a breath of fresh, Michigan air.
Morningstar – 8.4/10
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the latest Greenway projects made this list. Shops in the Greenway family constantly impress with their individual personalities and standard of excellence. What strikes me most about Morningstar is the Zen Garden ambiance which is completely unique in all of my coffee shop experience. When you’ve been to as many places as I have, novelty and personality are a big deal. Read more on Morningstar here.
Slowpokes – 8.6/10
You can read more in my review here, but the short version is I love Slowpokes. While it isn’t the highest scoring shop I’ve been to (mainly due to an average coffee program), it is easily one of my personal favorites on the same level as Wormhole and Amavida Seaside. The main factor that drives this is in the quirky and eccentric decor that you can’t help but smile at. The impressive design is bolstered by a phenomenal staff experience. In my mind, this is a shop that has done just about everything right.