It’s always been a mystery to me why that old 40’s standard, the “Java Jive”, is sung so slowly. Certainly after “a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, boy”, I think it would be impossible not to pick up the pace. God bless the hallowed bean for that—for its wonderfully indecent effects on the human body. But coffee is not just a sweet, sweet addiction, it’s our first pleasure of the day, a moment to ourselves when we can gear up for all of the obscenities incarnate life plans to serve. And where one takes his or her daily joe is as important as the brew itself.
Minnesota has a grand old coffee tradition, as the home of the first Dunn Brothers on 1569 Grand Avenue in St. Paul, and as the home base of Caribou Coffee. Both are java giants, with top consumer ratings for the quality of their respective brews. A number of independently-owned coffee shops also receive accolades for their lattes, and are favorite neighborhood hang-outs. It’s not just about dashing in and getting your mocha fix, it’s about sitting there with a few friends, paging through the paper, getting caught up on email, or just plain old people-watching.
Perhaps the top spot for high octane ogling is the Blue Moon Café at 3822 E. Lake Street in Minneapolis. Like many neighborhood faves, its walls sport the work of local artists, and poetry readings and live music are regular fixtures—a calendar of upcoming events can be found online at <www.drinkbluemoon.com>. The café also boasts a selection of pastries, sandwiches, teas and board games, and has been a drop-off spot for Webster Farm Organics since 1997.
Another absolute gem is the Wilde Roast Café at 518 Hennepin Avenue E in Minneapolis. The beautiful brain child of Tom DeGree and Dean Schlaak, its “updated Victorian” interior delights the senses as much as its coffee, pastries and heartier fare. Art, entertainment and special events are mainstays at the Wilde Roast, and are listed at <www.wilderoastcafe.com>.
Perhaps no coffee shop captures the heart of the artistic community like the Spy House (<www.spyhousecoffeeshop.com>) on 2451 Nicollet Avenue S. in Minneapolis. Located a hop, skip and a graceful jump from the Minneapolis Arts Institute and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), the Spy House takes coffee shop art shows to a new level. Set inside their retro wonderland of kitsch, it nevertheless takes its dual role as a gallery as seriously as it takes its coffee and premium teas.
Across the river, another like-minded shop is the Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar (<www.blackdogstpaul.com>), located at 4th and Broadway in Downtown St. Paul, just across from the Farmer’s Market. The old warehouse space, the upper floors of which have been lovingly converted into lofts for artists, attracts the diverse population that makes up Lowertown. A bevy of musicians perform regularly, along with poetry readings, discussions and, courtesy of the Argentine Tango Society, every third Saturday is tango night.
Ginkgo Coffeehouse, at 721 N. Snelling Avenue in St. Paul (<www.ginkgocoffee.com>), is also a haven for musicians of all genres. The presentation is more formal, and tickets for Thursday night concerts can be purchased in advance or at the door. Soups, sandwiches, and the like are made in-house, with pastries from the Twin Cities’ finest bakeries.
Just driving around Minneapolis and St. Paul confirms that we have a passion for coffee: there’s at least one shop every few blocks up Hennepin, across Lake, or on Grand. And sometimes the “best” is simply the one closest to where we live—the one that best caters to each individual neighborhood. Ask 20 people what their favorite coffee shop is, and you’re likely to get 20 different answers, for 20 different reasons. The one constant is that there’s a bean and a roast for every palate, and chances are, you know the perfect spot to get it, and it’s just around the corner.
Barista: one who prepares espresso-based drinks
Skinny: Any coffee drink with nonfat milk instead of regular
Café Au Lait: contains equal parts brewed coffee and hot milk
Cappuccino: Latte with milk foam on the top. Mostly foam is a “dry cappuccino”, and all foam is an “extra dry cappuccino”
Café Macchiato: Espresso with a hint of milk foam
Café Con Panna: Espresso topped with whipped cream
Café Americano: Espresso made with a dash of hot water
Half-Caff: Espresso made with half regular and half decaffeinated beans
Mocha Latte: Latte with cocoa, topped with whipped cream
Irish Coffee: coffee with a shot of whiskey, heavy whipping cream and three sugar cubes