I had my first sip of coffee when I was in third or fourth grade. We were at my grandfather’s house on Sunday morning, like we were every Sunday morning. When we entered the house through the dining room, we shouted hello to my relatives awaiting us in the living room while Mom set her purse down on the table and Dad went into the kitchen to pour himself a cup of coffee. I don’t remember what prompted me to follow him. But I remember standing in Grandpa’s carpeted kitchen next to the gold-speckled linoleum countertops and my dad offering his coffee cup. I slurped a tiny drop of the black liquid into my mouth and winced. I didn’t want to swallow, but I didn’t want the taste to stay in my mouth any longer. In the end, it didn’t matter. The aroma lingered on my tongue the rest of the morning, making me nauseous.
They say you have to get used to coffee in order to enjoy it; you have to learn to love it. Throughout school, I thought this was the stupidest thing I ever heard. Why would you continually force yourself to drink something that is disgusting just so you can, what, fit in with mainstream adult America? I didn’t see the point.
Over time, I did learn to love coffee. And it wasn’t easy. But I love coffee now, couldn’t imagine my life without it. I love the smell and the taste. I love the morning ritual of brewing a pot and sipping the steaming hot liquid that helps me transition from sleep to wakefulness.
While in some cities, there’s a Starbucks on every corner, I’m happy to say that is not the case in Grand Rapids. There is an abundance of local, independent coffee shops that are all unique in their own way.
So when I'm downtown and in the mood for coffee, the first place I consider going is MadCap. It has big windows that look out onto one of the main streets of the city, so it’s the perfect place to enjoy the view and people watch. It reminds me a lot of Italian coffee shops; the serve my cappuccino in the same little white teacups and use the foam to draw designs in the espresso. It’s bright and open and simplistic, and I feel comfortable there.
Another coffee shop I may consider is Lantern. It’s newer—only two years old. It looks like a small shop when you enter, but then you can go down the couple of steps after ordering at the counter, and there is a warm cozy hideway with plush furniture and antique (you guessed it) lanterns hanging on the exposed brick walls. In this coffee shop, I forget about the bustling city and whatever else may be on my mind and I can really relax and enjoy a delicious cup of joe.
But in the spirit of this blog project, I figured it’s time for me to venture out and try one of the city’s other superb coffeehouses.
The Bitter End is a coffee shop I’ve always wanted to try. I’ve heard a lot about it from my college roommate and her Physician Assistant-to-be friends years ago when they would study there. It’s a rather popular spot for students—very close to the downtown campus of GVSU and open 24-hours for all-night caffeine fueling. I myself was always better at cramming in the comfort of my own home, and as an English major, writing papers was more of a solitary activity, so I never had much excuse to visit the coffee shop. Until now, of course.
Upon entering, I could see why it might make the perfect study spot. There are lots of four-top tables, perfect for groups or large textbooks. Along the walls are smaller, more private tables with their own library lamps which create an academic mood. The faint music from crooners gone by plays overheard, but very quietly, so as to not disturb focused readers but only relax them.
The décor itself is rather eclectic. It has a 1920s Great Gatsby vibe. Their website has an unexplained picture of Gertrude Stein and her lover Alice B. Toklas, but if you know anything about the expatriate Americans in Paris in the ‘20s (which I do), you know that Gertrude Stein’s apartment was practically an art gallery; all its walls were full of paintings from up-and-coming artists of the time like, oh, you know, Picasso.
At the Bitter End, they have definitely followed in Gertrude’s footsteps, covering the walls in countless pieces of art. Even if you forgot your homework, there’s still plenty to look at in this little coffee shop.
The menu is huge for a coffee shop—probably the biggest I’ve ever seen. So if you’re the type of person who likes flavored drinks, then this is probably your heaven. Me, I always go for the cappuccino, and they brewed a pretty good one.
Of course, now I’m kicking myself that it took me so long to enter through Bitter End's doors, but now that I have, I’ll definitely be back again.
For more information about the Bitter End, visit their website.