Throughout high school, and whenever we were visiting home from college, my friends and I would invariably end up at a coffee shop named Cup-a-cino’s. For our younger readers, you might not realize what a real coffee shop is, due to the fact that you grew up with Starbuck’s being the model coffee house. Well lit, free wi-fi, sandwiches available, and everyone tap tap tapping away on their laptops. That’s not what I fell in love with in my teen years. The place I fell in love with was a small dark shop full of misfits. It was a place with strange art on the walls. It had a book shelf where you were free to take a book, as long as you left a new one in its place. It was where I learned how to play Backgammon, taught by a group of Chaldeans from Iraq who spoke very little English. It was where I could go and smoke cigarettes while drinking some of the richest coffee imaginable (unless you are my mom, in which case it was where I could go and study while drinking some of the richest coffee imaginable).
Cup-a-cino’s is where I fell in love with coffee, in all its varieties. I love the fierce taste of an espresso, or the creamy desert-like taste of lattes. Most of all, I love a great cup of black coffee which is surprisingly hard to come by in this day and age. Gas station coffee is always burnt. Starbuck’s never gets it right, it’s as if they teach their baristas how to make a cappuccino, but not how to brew a simple pot of coffee. People who say that Dunkin’ Donuts makes the best coffee have clearly never had any other kind of coffee. Biggby’s comes closest, and they definitely have the most pleasant employees, but no coffee shop comes close the coffee I used to drink at Cup-a-cino’s. Except one.
The Coffee Barrel in Holt, located on the corner of Aurelius and Cedar, is the home to the best coffee in the Lansing area. They roast their own beans, made from Fair Trade, Organic, and even Bird Friendly beans. That’s right, bird friendly. I bet you didn’t even know that was a thing, but it is. According to the Coffee Barrel’s website, Bird Friendly coffees are
“coffees are those that abide by the standard set by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center of the National Zoo. This standard is an effort to prevent deforestation and the decline of both bio-diversity and migratory bird populations. Coffees that are bird friendly are usually grown in soil that is synthetic pesticide and fertilizer free.”
About a year ago, the Coffee Barrel moved from its location on Jolly Road in Okemos to the new building in Holt. While I lament the fact that the building is now three times as far from my house, I revel in the fact that it is not only now open on Saturday’s, but that you can order any type of coffee you want. Previously it was just a location where you could purchase gourmet roasted beans, but now they operate a small coffee shop in their new building as well as selling the best coffee beans in the area. I’m partial to the Brazilian Santos blend, but make sure to try a new roast or flavored coffee every time I come in. Seasonal flavored beans are available, just like your favorite beers. While I reserve flavored coffees for weekends and special treats, I always drink a lot of the Egg Nog flavored beans during the Winter Holiday season.
The baristas are trained in coffee knowledge beyond your wildest imagination. They understand the difference in beans from different regions in the world. They know what coffee pairs with certain types of food. The baristas understand differences in coffee acidity, and can recommend certain types based on your preferences. On top of that, they are friendly, and never act put upon when you are ordering, which is often times more difficult to find in the service sector than it should be.
When you swing by to pick up a couple of pounds of coffee, you can purchase some coffee brewing equipment, or even some very cool tote or messenger bags made out of coffee bean sacks. Fair trade/organic/bird friendly/delicious coffee, recycled coffee sacks, friendly staff, comfortable atmosphere…the Coffee Barrel has got it all. So stop by and tell them that the Lansing Collective sent you.
*Other area coffee roasters to check out are Paramount Coffee located on Larch Street directly across from Oldsmobile Park (sorry, but it will never be Cooley Law School Stadium to me), and Rudy Baggs Coffee Roasting Co. Both are good, but The Coffee Barrel is great.