With its six-month winter windchill and long-running status of ‘most likely metro to be forgotten from your favorite band’s touring schedule’, it comes as little surprise to Minnesota natives when the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul fly undetected by the radars of noteworthy media coverage. In the world of coffee, we see a similar trend of fringe awareness—the lists of best U.S. cities for our amber-hued caffeination kicks often center the usual suspects on the coasts.
Sans limelight of any sustained regard, however, the Twin Cities have birthed a swathe of remarkable cafes and roasters alike. And with a city population highly comprised of lifers and long-timers, the cultural focus tends to lean local, expecting people to return day by day, year after year. Local coffee companies are surrounded by a community that weathers drought and snowstorm alike.
When Food + Wine highlighted Wesley Andrews as their Best Cafe of Minnesota earlier this year, we were honored to be showcased on their platform. But our natural next response was to turn back to the oft overlooked community of Minneapolis and St. Paul, for whose constant support and encouragement we owe our abilities to create moving coffee experiences.
We especially wanted to focus on teams with visions of utilizing coffee as a means towards equality and restoration.
These companies go beyond the expediency that coffee’s intrepid lover, productivity culture, often begets. The Twin Cities is full of roasters who understand reciprocity up and down the supply chain, and in a city so full of neighborhood strength, we are inspired that many are looking to bolster not just their own communities, but those of partners and producers around the globe. Of course, you’ll find incredible pour overs and seasonally-curated espresso in all of these places, too—but first and foremost, you’ll find friendly faces and a track-record to boot.
What follows is our attempt to turn the spotlight back to a community that truly deserves it: a short, non-definitive list of Twin Cities locales whose open doors have personally kept us growing throughout the seasons.
Midtown, St. Paul
Now that they’re here, it’s hard to remember a time in which SK Coffee wasn’t a part of the Twin Cities landscape. One of the newest players on the block, SK has briskly proven itself as a premier case-study in coffee as a guide to action and reflection alike. What began with a whirly-pop and two farmer’s market tables has grown into a full-fledged cafe and roasting space in Midtown St. Paul’s Vandalia Tower. Featuring some of the most daring experimental roasts of the state (last time I visited, the bar was serving up specialty Guatemalan pour overs fermented with koji spores—the agent used in traditional shoyu and miso preparation), the small team consistently pokes and prods at the boundaries of how coffee is consumed, viewed, and expected in today’s culture.
Locally, the team works with students from St. Paul’s Central High School, beginning an apprenticeship program in 2020 to nurture students (particularly BIPOC and LGBTWIA+) with aspirations of starting their own small businesses after graduation. The company’s also built donation earmarks for rebuilding businesses into their baseline finances, which means any purchase in SK’s cafe or online store feeds directly back into Midtown’s community.
On the international front, roaster Sam Kjellberg and the team have already cultivated more than three direct-trade partnerships with farmers in Colombia: the result of a commitment to visit origin countries at least twice every calendar year. And though green beans personally FedEx’ed from South America are nice, it’s the personal relationships with farmers like Nicolas Ocampa Maya, one of their direct partners in question, that make coffee served over the SK bartop feel earned.
Camden, North Minneapolis
Another young contender in the Twin Cities scene, The Get Down sees the vision of Houston White—lifestyle brand aficionado and local North Minneapolis icon—collide directly with the likes of Dan Anderson, of Dogwood Coffee Co. fame. Together the teams have dreamt up a company aiming to tear down the cultural keep-out that White experienced in his first scrapes with specialty coffee. Lifting BIPOC voices and establishing a team in the heart of North Minneapolis’ Camden neighborhood, the company is a direct challenge to the often white-led, euro-dominant subcultures of the Midwestern java dialect.
Welcome to Camden; this black-owned cafe’s presence is about fresh expression for all. Walls bleed a neon-dyed vinyl, velvet classics spin without end, and the ever friendly squad of neighborhood baristas create a coffee experience wholly unique in the Twin Cities.
"When you stop seeing coffee lots as product, and start seeing them as people, the narrative changes," says CJ Porter Born, The Get Down's Director of Coffee. He and his team choose to watch the human reflection in their cups. Sustainability is more than ecology, more than humane practice–it's the collaboration of every hand working, supporting one another so that no part of the cycle is broken down or left behind. They strive against becoming another roaster caught in the zeitgeist of popular coffee culture, abandoning farm relations when the season turns sour or when a shiny new variety temptingly appears at a mill with more resources down the street. "Having a farmer know that you’re going to buy their coffee gives them a sense of security, and if a year is particularly challenging economically or environmentally, knowing some group in Minneapolis will come back to support you despite it all can aid in managing the stress and worry producing often incurs." For The Get Down, it's about more than breaching tainted histories of transactional relationships––it's enacting the process of coffee as a way to see.
St. Anthony Park, St. Paul
As owner Shawn puts it, Roundtable Coffee Works is a taste of the neighborhood. If you hadn’t already picked up the small-pocket particularity of the Twin Cities scene, Roundtable is the place that finally convinces you. What we think of as the most underrated spot of the metro, this cafe is tucked into the backroads of St. Paul’s industrial St. Anthony Park neighborhood. When 2020’s shutdown began to spell uncertainty for in-person cafe culture, Shawn and his team shifted their focus and opted to serve up ‘spro through a double window in the back of the original shop. Now having planted trees and other foliage in the newly-christened courtyard, the shop is open for the community through the few fleeting hours of late morning.
Roundtable has been a part of the community for more than a decade, and being so intimately aware of the changing neighborhood is one reason Shawn feels serving coffee is so special. "It's been really crazy–I remember some years back a couple stopped by to grab coffee with us on their way home from the hospital with their newborn. Through the years, I've watched the kid grow up in a sense, by serving coffee to the whole family. You get to watch a place age here."
The team's long running partnerships with farms in El Salvador began when Shawn visited the country back in 2012. The daily coffee ritual has been a comfort to him, and so he mostly keeps offerings consistent to accommodate reliable routine feelings. In turn, the team has built long term relationships with small farms around the globe; it all runs together in a beautiful way.
A cafe born after Peace Coffee’s permanent closure, Wildflyer Coffee joined the ranks of Minnehaha Avenue with bleeding hearts and a mission worth scrapping for. The company exists to put an end to youth experiencing homelessness in the Twin Cities, and has been putting their money where their mouth is since their inception over five years ago. Not just satisfied in raising funds for quiet donations, Wildflyer is constantly at work building up its team and community through a rolling six-month work and life-skills training program that employs youth currently in the cycle of homelessness.
Wildflyer is officially a non-profit, operating with the help of cafe revenue and donations from the community in order to make it all happen. Their caffeine kicks are fueling the laptop warriors of Longfellow and enabling the company to offer further support for their youth staff once they transition from the program—housing referrals, larger pathways to education, transport aid, and the like. Walking into their cafe space, we instantly feel the tug of hope that everything they do is based upon. And we hope you do, too.
When decade-veteran midwest baristas reminisce over the magic of the old days, their nostalgia smells of vanilla and coriander bitters. That’s because in Minneapolis, every coffee drinker remembers their first experience at Five Watt. Before we learned the difference between a gibraltar and a cortado, before we'd ordered a pink bourbon with correct vowel emphasis—before any of that, the menu whose razor’s edge inspired so many to begin their coffee careers (including the likes of us), was Five Watt.
Created by Lee Carter and Caleb Garn back in 2014, the now Minneapolis staple rocks four different locations. Of this list, the team at Five Watt has weathered the most storms and poured the most lattes in their day; it’s all thanks to their vision to connect people and their deep love for the neighborhoods they reside in.
The Wesley Andrews team has a particular soft spot for the old dog, as some of our first ideas to push coffee culture and find connection between people occurred over steaming Kingfields in Kingfield. For those wanting to get educated, Five Watt remains a masterclass in coffee as a vessel for creativity.
We know, we know. Fika Coffee is precisely four hours from the front doors of Wesley Andrews in Minneapolis. How could it possibly count in a coffee tour of the Twin Cities? Strictly speaking, you have a point—it doesn’t. But we don’t believe in speaking so strictly here. We’ve included Fika because it’s one of our favorite joints in the country, not just the state. The team is so synonymous with Minnesota coffee that to leave them out of the conversation on account of their superior geographic locale (lake jokes) would’ve been a gross disservice. To us, Fika is unmissable.
Fika is a swedish term dating back to the 19th century. It’s a spontaneous coffee break between friends: a time to slow down, grab a cinnamon bun, and enjoy the connective power of a well-brewed joe. Lutsen’s resident roaster builds their identity out of the same cultural blocks, wishing to craft coffee as a means to commune with our neighbors and savor our friendships. The small team of baristas and roasters (who all share space in the small cafe) are exceptional at sending visitors off with this gracious mood in mind. Their cafe along Minnesota 61—the highway snaking the western edge of Lake Superior—is an unexpected Scandinavian oasis for many northbound travelers, offering juicy light roasts in partnership with sustainable farms all around the coffee-growing world. Just make sure to bring a friend—it’s a long way up the scenic route.
So there you have it! We hope you found out about a new team you've never checked out before. And if you knew all of them, good on ya! Share this with somebody less cultured than yourself!
As always, thanks for stopping by.