The local craft beer scene has put Grand Rapids on the international map as a destination for all things rich in hops, malt and yeast. In turn, consumers have become enthusiasts who demand more from what they drink. The city’s specialty coffee culture is in sync with this trend, and is transforming their industry to embrace and enhance a movement that isn’t far behind — one that starts with a little green bean.
Ferris Coffee & Nut Co.
For those who are ready to ditch their mass-produced a.m. java in exchange for experiencing coffee enlightenment, start at Ferris Coffee & Nut Co., which warmly welcomes aficionados and novices alike. Ferris’ philosophy, honed over nearly 100 years in business, is all about being inclusive and trying to make coffee approachable.
In other words, the Ferris coffee & espresso bar in downtown Grand Rapids is a comfortable place for those who prefer their coffee with just a little cream and sugar (though there’s no shortage of specialty coffees available on any given day). Baristas look for humble opportunities with dedicated personal service to elevate a guest’s experience and ultimately their coffee sophistication.
They start with an attention to detail, monitoring the raw materials all the way to the farm level. Similar to breweries being intentional about where they source their ingredients, specialty roasters go straight to the country of origin for their coffee beans. Ferris Coffee maintains personal, face-to-face relationships with their producers all over the globe. Sometimes, they might only be able to acquire a few scarce 150 lb. bags of exclusive seasonal coffee beans at a time — and that’s buying out an entire lot. In order to maintain a premium level of quality, their coffee is carefully attended to from the time it’s grown abroad to the moment it’s brewed to order in their shop.
Ferris’ philosophy, honed over nearly 100 years in business, is all about being inclusive and trying to make coffee approachable.
Photo by Brian Craig for Experience Grand Rapids
Madcap Coffee may be Grand Rapids’ most recognized specialty coffee café, having earned a bevy of awards for its flavors, practices and service since its founding in 2018. With locations in both downtown and Uptown, Madcap works to recognize coffee as a cultural story to share rather than a commodity to be exploited.
The training, skill and technique of the company’s roasters and baristas allows Madcap’s coffee to express itself in the best way possible. Daily “dial in” of the day’s roast – an intense, ritual-like process of tasting flights of their own coffee, each roast with an A/B testing method – provides constant feedback to help them hone in on its most optimum characteristics to ensure they’re providing the best possible version of their products.
Madcap works to recognize coffee as a cultural story to share rather than a commodity to be exploited.
Photo by Brian Craig for Experience Grand Rapids
The Coffee-Beer Connection
Beyond the respect each industry has for their respective raw materials, the flavor profile parallels between specialty coffee and craft beer lend themselves to enthusiasts crossing over from either direction. Coffees from Central and South America tend to be a smooth gateway. Madcap’s 616 house blend from Columbia and Costa Rica is a fine example. For the more adventurous, hop to Ethiopian coffees — the IPAs of the coffee world, for their bright, acidic and floral notes. And, for the stout lover, full-bodied Indonesian Sumatra coffee with its smooth, sometimes thick, mouthfeel pairs well.
Coffee as a Beer Ingredient
Coffee has become a favorable ingredient added to craft beer. Both Madcap and Ferris Coffee have contributed to some notable collaborations.
Madcap partnered with local Brewery Vivant on Melo Angst, a 9.5% amber, Belgian-style strong ale with Caturra and Castillo coffee from Columbia, to make a splash at the 2016 Uppers and Downers Festival of Coffee Beers in Chicago. Madcap likens itself to Vivant as their brewery equivalent because of their dedication to flavor nuances. When visiting Vivant, look for them to occasionally add Madcap’s coffee to a barrel-aged project or limited-release firkin.
As a supporting member of the Michigan Brewers Guild, Ferris Coffee also knows beer. Locally, they’ve collaborated with Grand Rapids Brewing Co., HopCat and City Built Brewing. Ferris is surprisingly modest when sharing that their coffee has been used in Founders Brewing Company’s Sumatra Mountain Brown, Pale Joe, Breakfast Stout and drumroll, please … KBS, frequently hailed as one of the best beers on the planet.
Other past and present coffee-beer collaborations include:
- Madcask Hazy IPA, a Founders Brewing Co.-Madcap mashup that’s part of Founders’ Crafted in Michigan Collaboration Series
- Soldadera Porter from City Built Brewing and Soldadera Coffee
- Blonde Badger, a summery beer developed by Grand Rapids Brewing Co. and Littlefoot Coffee Roasters
- Javatose, a blonde ale from Railtown Brewing Company featuring cold brew blend coffee beans from Ferris Coffee
- Coal Coffee Stout from Alebird Taphouse & Brewery, made with Nutty Irishmen coffee from Schuil Coffee Company
EB Coffee & Pub, located just south of Grand Rapids in Caledonia, links coffee and beer in a different way. Billed as Michigan’s first coffeehouse-brewpub combo, it offers brewed-on-site beers alongside a selection of signature coffees and teas.
When it’s not purchased from a fast food drive-thru’s $1 menu or served scalding hot to mask what should otherwise be a balanced bouquet of flavorful nuances, coffee is special. It should be more than a casual a.m. habit. Mark Van Tongeren, Ferris Coffee’s VP of Sales and Marketing, sums it nicely, “Like craft beer, albeit a sober alternative, it’s a relational beverage that that’s enjoyed over purposeful conversation. It’s about the relationships coffee builds.”
To achieve a better buzz, follow @ferriscoffee and @madcapcoffee on social media, and check out these collaborations and resources:
- The Education Lab at Ferris Coffee conducts coffee classes for both professionals and home brewers
- Siciliano’s Market offers 20+ Michigan-made coffee roasts plus home beer-brewing supplies and reliable professional guidance
- Roast Magazine and its breaking-news website, dailycoffeenews.com, are essential reading for coffee connoisseurs
This was originally written by Jason Ley and has been updated by Experience Grand Rapids.