From locally-sourced crepes and Fair Trade practices to environmentally friendly options and workplace diversity, here are some of the best socially conscious coffee brands in the Mitten.
MICHIGAN—The recent labor movement to unionize at Starbucks locations across Michigan may have some customers wondering: “Is the money I’m spending on coffee helping or hurting the things I care about?”
It’s becoming increasingly relevant to know where our products come from and what sorts of business practices our purchases support. The good news: Many Michigan coffee shops are openly committed to ethically conscious, environmentally friendly, and inclusive business practices.
Here’s a roundup of some of our favorites:
Uncommon Coffee Roasters (Saugatuck)
127 Hoffman St.
Saugatuck’s own “local gay coffee shop” has been representing the LGBTQ+ community since 1994. With its wholesale products now being shipped across the country, it shows no sign of stopping.
As a queer-owned certified LGBT Business Enterprise, Uncommon Coffee Roasters gives back to the community via the Uncommonly Fabulous Fund—a monthly donation that supports LGBTQ+ people in southwest Michigan with school supplies, medical bills, transportation, and other essentials.
And their coffee is pretty great, too. Uncommon Coffee Roasters makes all of its brews from sustainable sources. Sales of the Pride Blend always benefits an LGBTQ+ focused charity, with the OutCenter of Southwest Michigan benefitting this year. Uncommon also has several eco-friendly initiatives, such as a regular donation of coffee grounds, using compostable paper products, and stacks of biodegradable takeaway cups. It also offers community classes and tours of the warehouse facility in Douglas.
Higher Grounds (Traverse City)
806 Red Drive
Though this Up North coffee bar may blend in with the other historic shops at the Village at the Grand Traverse Commons, Higher Grounds is a standout for centering its operations on sustainability. One of only a few Michigan businesses that is B Corp certified, Higher Grounds is organic and fair-trade. The shop also uses bicycles for deliveries, recycled products and composted coffee grounds.
Higher Grounds also steers at least 1% of its annual revenue to its nonprofit arm, On the Ground, which empowers coffee farming communities with broad efforts that focus on gender and social equity, economic security, and environmental sustainability. The Coffee Farmer Resilience Fund and Roya Fund also ensure some profits go back into the pockets of Central American coffee farming partners.
Last Mile Cafe (Grand Rapids)
Grand Rapids’ newest trending coffee beans have a strong ethical foundation, and they’re about to get even stronger when the brand opens a brick-and-mortar store later this summer.
The Last Mile Cafe is a Black- and women-owned coffee business that’s been selling their products in local stores like South East Market and Fulton Street Farmers Market for about a year. With their new storefront, the staff is committed to three key pillars: community, convenience, and ownership.
The coffee beans there are all ethically and sustainably sourced. Packaging and shipping materials are compostable. And 10% of annual revenues are donated to charities devoted to causes like helping at-risk youth, criminal justice reform, and environmental protections.
The company has already committed to building its brand in disenfranchised communities. A crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo showed that the local community is responding well to the socially conscious business practices at Last Mile Cafe: More than $29,000 has been raised.
Narrow Way Cafe (Detroit)
19331 Livernois Ave.
The Black-owned Narrow Way Cafe in Detroit had an unexpected start—inside a church.
The Merritt family developed their sense of community through the family’s church, the Straight Gate International Church. From there, the Merritt brothers were inspired to build community through coffee. Their cafe, like the Detroit community itself, has been tenacious about growing – even staying open through a multi-million-dollar sidewalk widening project and, you know, a global pandemic. Despite these stressors, the Narrow Way Cafe remains a bedrock of inspiration to its patrons through faith, family, and coffee.
Aldea Coffee (Grand Haven and Muskegon)
117 Washington Ave. in Grand Haven
794 Pine St. in Muskegon
In two small towns on the Lake Michigan coast, you’ll find a company that’s fighting tooth and nail for social justice among farmers in Honduras—oh, and for great-tasting, sustainable coffee, too.
Aldea Coffee is one of a few B Corp certified businesses in Michigan, which means it’s recognized for its high standards of socially and environmentally conscious business practices. Aldea’s sister organization, Aldea Development, has distributed more than $300,000 in loans to Honduras coffee, corn, and bean farmers. Farmers still maintain freedom over where to sell their crops, but Aldea always pays them top dollar.
Aldea got into the coffee business after learning how important the product was to Honduran farming culture. And the retail and wholesale business is expected to grow—especially now with a second location in Muskegon, where eco-friendly practices are still top priority.
110 E Ferry St.
What’s one surefire way to preserve aging historic buildings in Detroit? Turn them into non-profit spaces with the intent of supporting local minority business communities (and serve great coffee inside).
BasBlue is more than just a coffee bar; it’s a community dedicated to uplifting women. Housed in a Victorian mansion in Detroit’s Historic District, the nonprofit is designed to make patrons feel like they’re relaxing at home – but without the pressures of being at home. The women- and non-binary-centered social club prioritizes sourcing responsibly grown products from women-led or women-owned farms and bakeries. The menu is curated by two-time James Beard-nominated chef, Sarah Welch.
The cafe is open to the public, but members enjoy extra resources like meeting and co-working spaces, educational seminars, networking events, scholarship and grant opportunities, wine tastings, and more.
RoosRoast Coffee (Ann Arbor)
1155 Rosewood St. and 117 E. Liberty St.
This eco-friendly Ann Arbor coffee shop, with two locations in A2, describes itself as “liberal arts town garage sale idiosyncratic.” And there’s probably no better way to describe this eclectic spot.
One of RoosRoast’s claims to fame is that it was the first coffee roaster in Michigan to use the eco-friendly Loring Smart Roaster, nicknamed “Santa Rosa,” which reportedly uses 80% less energy than other roasting equipment. And since 2020, both shops have been powered entirely by solar energy.
As for the coffee, RoosRoast’s beans tend to have some unusual names, like “Mother Pheasant Plucker.” In addition to lightening the mood, they’re also ethically sourced and mostly certified organic. Sustainability is also key to the business’s operations: Discounts are offered to guests who make use of the bring-your-own-container policy.
Anastasia and Katie’s Coffee Shop & Cafe (Livonia)
19215 Merriman Rd.
This little coffee shop near metro Detroit has some big ideas—one of which is creating opportunities for inclusion, including for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Anastasia and Katie’s Coffee Shop and Cafe was founded on the back of the nonprofit ‘Mi Work Matters.’ The shop serves as an employment program and advocate for workers with disabilities, and both the nonprofit and cafe build job opportunities to challenge the 80% unemployment rate for adults with disabilities. The coffee shop is also known for its tasty coffee, tea, smoothies, baked goods, boxed lunches, and more.
Les Cheneaux Coffee Roasters (Cedarville)
33 E. Hodeck St.
Once you venture into the Upper Peninsula, it can become difficult to find the same wide variety of businesses you’re used to below the bridge. So it’s a good thing to know about places like Les Cheneaux Coffee Roasters.
Located on the eastern side of the Mackinac Bridge, Les Cheneaux specializes in ethically sourced, organic, single-origin coffee. Roast masters Jennifer and David Gough are constantly improving the unique flavor profiles of their coffees, teas, and baked goods. Their coffee is artisanal small-batch. And like many other Up North businesses, what it lacks in size is made up several times over in coziness and beauty. In this case, you simply can’t beat the scenic surroundings of the Les Cheneaux Islands.
Flint Crepe Company (Flint)
555 Saginaw St.
Pastries and coffee are already the perfect match. But it’s truly a sustainable match made in heaven when ethically-sourced coffee meets locally derived ingredients from Michigan.
The crepes at Flint Crepe Company take inspiration from the beloved Upper Peninsula cuisine of the pasty. Aside from more traditional sweet crepes, like cinnamon sugar and raspberry, the menu also serves savory crepes—like the Monte Cristo or an egg and cheese crepe. The menu is determined by the local food system, as the company serves up whatever happens to be in season.
The coffee beans are imported from Costa Rica and locally roasted into lattes and mochas—the perfect pairing for the delicious, organic, and sustainably sourced crepes.
Blue Owl Coffee (Lansing and East Lansing)
1149 S Washington Ave. and 1236 Turner Rd. in Lansing
213 Ann St. in East Lansing
Coffee shops have always been communal sorts of spaces, but Blue Owl Coffee sets a new industry standard for its deep-rooted connections to the local community in Greater Lansing.
Blue Owl Coffee started as nothing more than a coffee bike run by some former Starbucks baristas, but today it has three locations in the Capital City. Its priority is the creative community, with a master plan of opening in 10 cities over the next 10 years and promoting the work of each city’s artists and musicians.
In addition to the frequent events and showings of local talent, Blue Owl Coffee also has programs dedicated to helping local residents. The latest “Community Coffee Spotlight” program provides coffee cards and catering credits while recognizing local front line healthcare workers, veterans, and teachers.
Roast & Toast Cafe (Petoskey)
309 E Lake St.
Roast & Toast in Petoskey has been around since 1993, and the staff has made quite a lot of headway in finding sustainable, eco-friendly solutions, while bolstering the local community at the same time.
With select offerings of fair trade organic coffees, Roast & Toast maintains high standards for its brew. The golden rule: Never sell coffee more than two weeks old, and donate the rest to food pantries.
But that’s hardly the only communal support at Roast & Toast. It also provides donations to local medical facilities, schools, sports teams, non-profits, community organizations, and more. Additionally, local products (from potato chips to garbage bags) are all sourced from the surrounding community.
Since 2015, Roast & Toast has also been committed to reducing its carbon footprint by diverting more than 70,000 pounds of food scraps to composting. and recycling just as much in packaging materials.
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