When you’re incoherently ambling around ready for that crucial first sip of the day, though taste and quality does matter, hard pressed coffee enthusiasts know that how you prep the brew rarely has consequence. Contrary to conventional habits, the crude, yet noble, preparation technique of hand drip has gained popularity in cupping communities in recent years, bringing a whole new meaning to delayed gratification to coffee drinkers. In a fortunate twist of enterprise, the hand drip mavins of Valentine Coffee give us a new cause to care.
Washington Heights’, Valentine Coffee has shared its own distinctive, globally sourced crop and small batch roasts geared toward discerning tastes for about a year now. You won’t find any large plastic buttons pumping coffee through a thermos, Valentine Coffee employs the hand drip method to every regular cup, without exception.
Dressed in stylishly rough finished interior design, located in a modest storefront on Vliet Street just east of 60th Street, Valentine Coffee offers a contemplative atmosphere for casual conversation or task mastering. Although hand dripped, optimally scalding temperature water awaits its chance to run over carefully measured coffee grounds, awakening the full character of the coffee within three minutes.
Valentine’s current selection stretches vast for a roastery its size and arrives from Brazil, Indonesia, New Guinea, Peru, and Uganda, each with their own unique flavor profiles. Sweet and savory light baked goods present themselves for the taking courtesy of Blue’s Egg and other local establishments.
Valentine Coffee now opens daily from 6am to 2pm.
If you heard a rumor that there was a giant coffee cup being hoisted atop a building you can confirm that just by heading east down I-794. The giant rooftop cup, a beacon to all wayward coffee drinkers, signifies you can now sip Stone Creek Coffee slowly at their shining new Factory Store on 5th and St. Paul.
Stone Creek Coffee Factory Store serves up quality and well sourced grind all week, very early on weekdays opening at 5:30a, then 6:00a on Sat and 7:00a on Sun.
Spacious, comfortable and modest, the Stone Creek Factory Store retained the old world charm of given by original building architects Burnham and Root, with vintage cabin completeness provided by Kubala Washakto (a slightly style-cramping choice of architects considering they also designed Alterra’s corporate headquarters). Not moments after entering Stone Creek’s vestibule, do you experience l0arge glass panels beckoning you to enter the cafe to see just how nice inside looks.
At the Factory Store opening, Stone Creek’s renewed industrial interior, formerly just their headquarters and roasting facility, provides a ideal setting for coffee consumption and bustles with activity. It feels like an unpretentious resort suitable for Stone Creek’s typical patronage, a pleasant and seemly crowd not quite spanning the cultural spectrum the way Alterra does. Friendly, knowledgeable Barristas have a marked presence, as well as ample seating at big tables suitable for accommodating feasts in ancient Saxony.
Method to the Cup
Stone Creek still has a Barrista school where its employees hone their craft of brewing and cupping. A kind fellow stands at the coffee bar practice area ready to demonstrate the traditional drip method of brewing. The mock Barrista station captures the intensity of a chemistry lab. Several glass vessels rest on top of digital scales consecutively, cradle ceramic drip cones in their openings. A tea kettle holding water heats up with a digital thermometer monitoring its temperature. In grave detail, the fellow explains that preparation of a single cup of coffee using the drip method suits his personal preference. An emphasis on the precise weight of beans and type of grind, ensures that what the vessel captures, when water brought just below a boil slowly soaks through the coffee and filter, impresses the pallet of those with discerning taste.
Further leaping into maturity, not that Stone Creek hadn’t outdone itself with the primary features of the remodel, baked goods now come in-sourced fresh from its newly christened commercial backing facility. Goodies make it from oven to plate, pipping fresh, and quicker than ever. Stone Creek’s coffee couldn’t be happier.
Stone Creek’s flagship store get tons of credit for adding a little commerce to an otherwise bleak area for retail business of any kind. Sitting at the footsteps of the Central Post Office and Intermodal Station, and a stones throw from We Energies, an obvious captive market will inevitablely tip their cups. Let’s hope that some spillover from the Third Ward Association’s innovations in pedestrian experience and attempts to heighten awareness of activating dead spaces like Brighten the Passage, can meet West Town and the City halfway and alleviate the bleak walking conditions from surrounding areas to make an even greater success story for Downtown.
For a small pond, Milwaukee has never shied away from rivalry. In the battle grounds of Milwaukee’s corner taverns and mid-block pubs, brew masters watched their glory pour from beer taps. More recently, Milwaukee’s other favorite brew has inspired a less overt battle to fill coffee house mugs with specialty blends caffeinated beverages. What more fitting place for a friendly business duel to take place, but at the intersection in Bay View where Lincoln, Kinnickinnic, Allis and Howell Avenue create the most conspicuous conglomeration street corners per acre of anywhere in Southeastern Wisconsin.
If Bay View were Greenwich, Connecticut Alterra Coffee Roasters would be the Jones’. The coffee brewers that auspiciously broke-in a vacant garage on the Eastside in 1992 before the curse cast on Prospect Mall took hold, in 2012 leveled the old Maritime Bank building a redeveloped it into a LEED-certified coffee super cabin suitable for a mountainside lot in Boulder, Colorado.
Much conversation titillates around the subject of coffee culture and Alterra just upped the ante. More like a coffee resort, their open air patio sits adjacent to a convertible vestibule that leads to the lobby’s order counter. A flock of hip and forward thinking parents and yuppies, are joined by counter-thinking parents and hipsters in a line reaching the sidewalk on KK. Hustling servers of all ages and persuasions, from tattooed to typical, cut through the through the faux log tables and chairs, to seek out and deliver goodies to those dining on the patio.
On Alterra’s upstairs level, though the garage door window was closed, the lofted space still felt like a high-end stilted bungalow in Costa Rica. Despite the pomp and trendiness, we all know that Alterra serves extremely tasty coffee, including the house coffee that was barely phased by a few of tablespoons of half and half, truly fitting for a coffee blend represented by the rock star accentuating the “A” in Alterra.
Keep that Upper Lip Stiff
Having a niche is sometimes just as good as being at the top of your game. Nestled in behind a patch of birch trees, Stone Creek Coffee’s shop exudes the understated and connoisseur quality of its founder. Eric Resch started Stone Creek around the same time Lincoln Fowler, Ward Fowler and Paul Miller jump started Alterra, today the shops are kind of like two cool brothers that took different paths to productive adulthoods.
Baristas tending to a quaint and quiet lounge area, with comfy leather chairs and wood furnishings holding an impeccable golden maple stain, patiently wait for customers to settle on their beverage choices. A modest but sweet selection of bakery and reasonably priced fruit awaits a chance to accompany a smooth cup of freshly drawn coffee. The patrons inside and out have their coffee without a fuss, a bit motley in their own right. The down-to-earth nature of Bay View has thoroughly soaked into the Stone Creek establishment, you might barely know it’s there riding past. Stone Creek’s visual impact barely distinguishes the shop from the surrounding landscape.
Not too long ago Stone Creek did some remodeling of its own. The patio is set with rugged green steel chairs that offer a surprising level of comfort despite their riveted all-conditions design. All-weather industrial strength umbrellas anchored in place shield the tables from the rain or shine. Elongated park benches give a few additional places to settle. A traditional garden fountain trickles audibly, miraculously drowning-out road noise that one might imagine enveloping your outdoor experience, but it just doesn’t.
The coffee tables inside, situated in an acceptable and not too cozy proximity to one another, offer various vantage points, inspired by the Stone Creek slogan accordingly, from which to sip your coffee slowly. Large screened windows make the counter area into a sun porch overlooking the cafe’s patio. Favoring kinship to the traditional beer brew pubs of Milwaukee, Stone Creek notably serves a house ice brewed coffee straight from a beer tap into single serve cups, or take-away refillable growlers, as if you needed a reason to come back.
Enough Sippers for All Occasions
Alterra Coffee Roasters and Stone Creek Coffee Roasters do the brewers of Milwaukee’s past proud Monday – Sunday during regular coffee drinking hours, fittingly with Stone Creek opening a little earlier and Alterra closing a little later.
Around town last Saturday, a well-knit community of small proprietors endeavored to share their passion for global economic justice. To commemorate Fair Trade Day, Milwaukee’s shops that uphold fair trade ethics opened their doors to promote awareness of wares and edibles produced around the world. Fair Trade Day celebrates growth of consciousness that as Americans we buy a lot of goods from developing countries at deep discounts, at the expense of workers the with few labor rights, or miss out on goods from producers lacking capital and access to infrastructure to sell them Stateside. In 2007, Milwaukee became the third Fair Trade city in the United States.
Wake Up World
Efforts to break last year’s record of a 65,000 person Fair Trade Coffee Break, put the delectable coffee bean center stage. Although Fair Trade Day heightens awareness of fair trade practices in general, coffee-growing symbolizes the struggle for economic fairness worldwide. Ubiquitous in American culture, coffee drinkers can play a role in ensuring economic justice with little effort and at a marginal expense. In addition to coffee, The Milwaukee Fair Trade Coalition encouraged a variety of options to experience fair trade ranging from jewelry, clothing and artwork to household cleaning products. Outpost Foods supported Fair Trade Day by offering a free prize for making stops at six participating fair trade locations. Here’s where Local Trolley stopped.
Grace Place Coffee Lounge
250 E. Juneau, Milwaukee
Stop one, Grace Place Coffee Lounge in Juneau Village, may seem unlikely but not so. In a quaint expansion to the main church building of Grace Lutheran Church, Grace Place Coffee serves fair trade coffee in line with the Church’s mission of promoting better livelihoods in less developed countries. Its quiet and modern, a great place to study or work on a project. Grace Place Coffee sits right in the midst of Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) providing a convenient alternative to an otherwise coffee deprived area. During Fair Trade Day, Grace Place Coffee House featured Fair Trade Organic Coffee courtesy of Coffee with a Conscience.
Brewing Grounds for Change
2008 N. Farwell Ave, Milwaukee
Expecting a major fair trade coffee bash at Brewing Grounds for Change? As a focal point of community action and global awareness on the Lower Eastside, at Brewing Grounds for Change Fair Trade Day equates to business as usual. A great place representing a noble cause, Brewing Grounds nestles hidden gems such as alternative news sources from around the country and many announcements of local educational, creative and social causes. As one of the few later evening coffee shops, the opportunity to gather, read and converse carries on past 9pm. The non-profit status of Brewing Grounds allows much more room for social justice and human interest priorities, anchoring the ethics of non-commercialism still at home on the Lower Eastside. The volunteer staff shares their time so that more of the fair trade proceeds make it back to the coffee growers of less developed countries. WUWM 89.7 did a nice piece on Fair Trade Day that featured Brewing Grounds for Change among others. During Fair Trade Day, Brewing Grounds offered a $1 cup of Guatemalan blend coffee.
Third World Handcrafts Shoppe
5229 N. Capitol Drive, Milwaukee
As one of the oldest fair trade vendors in Milwaukee, Capitol Heights’ Third World Handcrafts Shoppe spent the last 22 years offering a quality and unique mix of jewelry, artifacts, religious icons, and clothing from around the world, including the West Bank, Kenya and India. Founders Jerry and Eunice Koepke, inspired by a sister church’s shop in Nebraska, began buying handcrafted items at prices that would support a family for a year, in countries they visited while on Lutheran Missions.
The idea of Missionaries conjures up a spectrum of opinions, however making a concerted effort to contribute to local economies while on “God’s business” deserves commendation. Third World Handcrafts operates as a non-profit ministry of the Capitol Drive Lutheran Church. Located in the heart of the Northside neighborhood Capitol Heights (Capitol Court to most locals), Third World Handcrafts is the unsung founder of the Fair Trade movement in Milwaukee. WJTM4’s Carol Meekins did a story on Third World Handcrafts as a part of her series Positively Milwaukee two years ago this week. The shop’s fair trade item of the day was Mexican silver jewelry.
Fair Trade for All
8730 W. North Avenue, Milwaukee County
Capping what could become Milwaukee’s most prominent street of continuous business activity, North Avenue, the street’s west end houses Fair Trade for All specialty gift shop. Attracting numerous curious shoppers, Fair Trade for All’s assortment of wall ornamentation, sculptures, clothing, bags and other eye and soul soothing consumables fill every display shelf vacancy. Some of FTA’s rare accessories benefit specific causes such as jewelry made from the ivory-alternative Tagua nut, crafted to combat the disgusting practice of poaching elephants. Handbags and computer cases designed from spent Cambodian rice and fish feed bags by Malia help battle the illicit sex trade. Family owned and operated, Fair Trade for All models sustainable and just business practices daily. On Fair Trade Day Fair Trade for All spot-lit Thai jewelry.
Four Corners of the World
5401 W. Vliet St, Milwaukee
On 54th and Vliet, Washington Heights cradles Four Corners of the World a non-profit fair trading post. Four Corners of the World offers many of the essential fair trade products such as accessories, chocolate and coffee. However, a few specific fair trade brands stand out at Four Corners. Available specialties include Malia Designs, Devine Chocolate, and a Four Corners of the World special blend coffee (along with many other blend varieties) by Madison-based coffee co-op Just Coffee. Good Paper, Four Corners’ featured Fair Trade Day product particularly notable for engaging an industry not readily associated with fair trade, assists communities in areas of the world like Rwanda, Manila, Philippines, and the Himalayas that have really struggled during the industrial and post-industrial era. Good Paper’s products offer an array of fine handmade greeting cards, stationary, and journals.
More than just a trading post, Four Corners of the World spawned from the desire of Southeastern Wisconsin Initiative for Fair Trade (SWIFT) to give Milwaukee a hub for environmental sustainability and high-road economic education. Links to film, periodicals and the Speakers’ Bureau (a listing of cost-free speakers that offer specialized knowledge on sustainability and economic justice topics) and many other Fair Trade resources can all be found at Four Corners of the World.
Future Green and Cafe Tarragon
2352 S. Kinnickinnic, Milwaukee
Subdued and tranquil, Future Green has an outdoor feel indoors. It’s simple, a bit rustic and frankly will bring you in touch with your natural side. Sweatshop-free forest trail or urban-adventurer-ready polo shirts and other active-wear hang out waiting to be whisked away. Contemporary and ethic styles of women’s clothing can also be purchased. Novel items like the featured Guatemalan dolls stand by preparing to brighten the recipients’ day. The sustainable products available set Future Green apart from the solely Fair Trade oriented shops. One-stop shopping for sustainable cleaning products, housewares, home flooring and Photovoltaic Cells (Solar panels) is amazingly possible at Future Green. Cafe Tarragon, tucked in the back of the boutique, attracts taste buds that hanker for vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Cafe Tarragon’s menu offers only vegetarian cuisine, and as an added bonus, a gluten-free bread alternative to the regular baguette. Gluten-free desserts taunt you as you nibble deliciousness, and believe me their entree satisfies cravings.
The Fair Trade Community is thriving in Milwaukee and the beautiful thing about the movement is that it is truly a Citywide effort. A listing of all participating shops in Milwaukee, and surrounding areas, is available on Milwaukee Fair Trade Coalition’s website.
Recently, I mentally noted that Lisbon Avenue leads a perfect and direct route from Milwaukee’s Northside into downtown. For that matter, as an old “milk road”, Hwy 41 will take you all the way from Green Bay, WI to downtown. Overlooking the park lands of Washington Park, I welcomed the familiar left turn off of Sherman Boulevard now free of orange construction water barrels that for the past five years prominently guarded Lisbon Avenue. Not far out of the turn, in my periphery a series of parked cars line the street in front of a quaintly adorned building, with classic storefront display bay windows endemic to older Milwaukee neighborhoods. Turns out Amaranth Bakery & Cafe forms the honeycomb attracting these local bees on 33rd and Lisbon.
Opening in 2005, Amaranth Bakery & Cafe brings flavorful baked delicacies and Anodyne coffee to an area of Milwaukee that not 10 years ago could have been mistaken for the setting of an episode of The Wire. Sandwiched between Washington Heights, Sherman Park, and Walnut Hill, the cross-road neighborhood of Washington Park gets passed by everyday with little notice.
At the turn of the millennium, while Washington Heights and to some extent Sherman Park maintained their class as stable Northside neighborhoods, Walnut Hill (which anchored the heart of the Black community in the 1950’s and ’60’s and encompasses Lindsay Heights) and Washington Park faced tribulation. Like many other neighborhoods, the spillover of years of divestment in Milwaukee’s central areas ripped these neighborhoods’ social fabric. In the mid-1990’s, partnerships in the Walnut Hill and Washington Park neighborhoods, initiated through grassroots organizations like Walnut Way and New Hope Project, sparked the revitalization seen today.
The beauty of Amaranth Bakery & Cafe, which is still somewhat out-of-place even with Washington Park’s make-over, goes beyond its external appearance. The proprietors, life partners Dave and Stephanie, don’t commute from a remote part of town. They put roots down right in the Washington Park community and cast a civic presence there. Amaranth and their founders support neighborhood efforts to promote constructive activities that do justice to the residents that subsist contrary to prevailing media images. They also publish a print-only monthly newspaper called The Washington Park Beat, which for Milwaukee’s concentric easterly neighbors circulates at Whole Foods.
Amaranth’s innovation also has a taste. The fare at Amaranth keeps a “buy local” ethic, with many ingredients produced locally or regionally. Even the sweet treats supply reasonably healthy nourishment, including only sensible amounts of food group essentials. Take the pecan pie out of the bleached flour crust and corn syrup-based filling and you have a delicious flaky crust with a custard bed comforting glistening and slightly sweetened pecans (friendly to my gluten sensitive stomach, although likely not free of it). The serenity found in Amaranth’s atmosphere encourages thought; over-sized comfortable chairs would betray the humbleness and spirit of ingenuity exuded here. A stash of boards games give motivation to embrace this theme.
Amaranth Bakery & Cafe offers environmentally and socially conscious soups, salads and baked goods without the snot. Daily soup options have updates found on the newly launched business page. Amaranth Bakery & Cafe is open Tuesday through Saturday 7am – 2pm, and definitely on my must support list.