Things I Love: Coffee and Especially Local Coffee Shops

I want to shout from the rooftops of Birmingham, Michigan that Commonwealth, a hip little coffee shop, makes one of the best cups of coffee in the Detroit area, or anywhere. And then I hope nobody shows up (at least not when I’m there) so I can continue to feel like it’s “my little secret.”

My passing interest on the topics of “buy local”, coffee, and coffee and tea shops is suddenly evolving into some sort of obsession. I feel as if I’m dancing dangerously close to a line that separates normal, average patrons from obsessed superfans who are one inappropriate comment from being kicked out of someplace or being issued a restraining order. Waiters and waitresses know what I’m talking about. Show me an Applebee’s, Chili’s, or Max & Erma’s, and I’ll show you a socially awkward adult with bad skin who thinks the polite waitress or bartender is his friend, stays too long, scares the other customers, drinks mostly Coke and water instead of cocktails, doesn’t tip, and talks too much about whatever topic might be on his mind on any such particular night. And he or she is there probably 5 nights a week. If this awkward adult is a “she”, she probably brings her knitting.

I like to think I’m a sophisticated coffee drinker with a sensitive pallet and these locally owned coffee shops appreciate my passion for great coffee. I like to think I am to coffee what a sommelier is to wine and vineyards, or an art lover is to paintings, sculptures, and a gallery. Until I see horrified looks on the faces of customers at Commonwealth, well, I’ll just keep thinking I’m the all-star customer, opinion leader, and early-adopter a 9-month old coffee shop like Commonwealth needs in order to succeed.

Commowealth’s vibe is the vibe and mood we thought was drawing us to places like Starbucks and Caribou for all these years. We let Starbucks paint a picture of a simple coffee shop interested only in roasting tasty beans and we flocked to it. We flocked, you flocked, they flocked, we bought mugs and beans and we’ve been clinging to this idea of a “coffee shop on the corner” for well over a decade. But now, many of us are waking up and realizing, “hey …Starbucks beans taste burnt – sometimes. And good – sometimes. And, wait, they don’t even really care about their coffee; they only care about their specialty drinks, merchandise sales, and how many people they can pass through their doors as quickly as possible.” Starbucks is to a cup of coffee what McDonald’s is to a hamburger. Starbucks hires kids who look like coffee hippies, but they are no more coffee hippies than similar kids working around the corner at the massive movie chain complex.

Today, at Commonwealth, I met their roaster …Josh? He introduced himself to me. He talked about their Ethiopian beans and mentioned fair trade and well-payed farmers. He mentioned being part of a mission that traveled to Honduras and this fall they’ll be featuring and roasting yet another bean from this handpicked farm in South America. And even if I’m only accurately remembering 50% of what he said, it’s still pretty awesome.

Do you want to serve coffee at your next dinner party that came with a book or with a Tori Amos Sings ’80s Standards CD in a paper CD case? Or do you want your beans, like wine, to have a story behind it?

Come to think of it, Commonwealth’s roaster had tattoos, an earing, and a chin beard – might’ve been a goatee. Either way …it was cool. I want to meet you for coffee. Name the date and time – I know the perfect place.

Follow @donkowalewski or his alter-ego @spunkybean where he writes about Bachelor Pad, American Idol, and much, much more.

One Comment on “Things I Love: Coffee and Especially Local Coffee Shops

  1. Starbucks always tasted like burnt beans! Nice work, Don! If I ever make it to the east side of the state I will definitely check this place out.

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