The Cycle Cafe recently enjoyed a trip to Saugatuck “The Art Coast™ of Michigan”. Saugatuck and neighboring town Douglas appear to be headed towards incorporating together sometime in the near future. Some may resist this move but it seems to make sense to help reduce municipal costs. They are delightful harbor villages with access directly to Lake Michigan and the magnificent dunes. Both towns are bicycle and pedestrian friendly and filled with a variety of shops and amenities. We decided to do an espresso showdown between cafe Uncommon Grounds in Saugatuck and cafe Respite in Douglas. Uncommon Grounds is reviewed first followed by Respite with the results at the end of the post.
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Uncommon Grounds – 127 Hoffman St. , Saugatuck, MI
1 Wheel rating for the Espresso quality
Uncommon Grounds roasts their own coffee in small batches to ensure freshness and quality. They offer some organic roasts and have an admirable social mission of buying source “partnership” coffee. They visit and inspect the conditions where the coffee is grown and processed. More detail can be found on their website.
The cafe has a wonderful homey atmosphere with seating options indoors and outdoors. Spending time in here chatting with friends, reading a good book, or getting some work done are all possibilities. A tall display hosting multiple varieties of coffee roasts greets one upon entering. Unfortunately we did not buy an espresso blend to take home. Fresh pastries lure you to indulge your weakness; the selection was excellent.
An espresso was ordered, making sure to specify that it was for here as it appeared most everything was being dispensed in to go cups. The espresso, unfortunately, did not live up to the rest of the cafe experience. It was served with only a saucer and without any passion. A little passion when serving the espresso goes a long way toward enjoying it. The aroma was on the weak side. The crema was very light whitish brown, quite thin, and with weak stamina. We dared not to blink for fear of it vanishing. The espresso was watery and the flavor was on the sour side without a good finish. Our sense is that the shots were being pulled too quickly and this is compromising the flavor and quality.
Uncommon Grounds, you have a good thing going with your cafe and roasting set up. It would be even better with a higher level of espresso craft and care woven into it. We are prescribing a dose of David Schomer’s publications “Techniques of the Barista” and “Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques”. They are excellent resources for refining the quality of the espresso. David Schomer is a recognized world expert in espresso craft. Read The Cycle Cafe’s Rating Guide to gain an idea of what we look for and see at the best espresso bars then add a personal touch of your own. We hope to be back in the future to give it another try and to buy a bag of beans to go.
Uncommon Grounds Espresso
Uncommon Grounds Roaster
Uncommon Grounds Barista at work
Uncommon Grounds Counter
Respite Cappuccino Court, 48 Center St., Douglas, MI.
1 Wheel Rating for the Espresso Quality
Our hopes were high that Respite would be able to deliver. The subtitle of Cappuccino Court was very enticing. The exterior was charming and inviting with outdoor seating at the front and on the side court; providing options of sun or shade for seating. Inside had a good selection of cafe tables to sit at without being too cramped. The chairs were cleverly backed with coffee bean burlap shipping bags. The baristas were very pleasant and engaging, working quickly to keep the line moving while being personable to the customers. The quality of light coming through the large storefront window helped to create an inviting interior atmosphere.
Simpatico coffee was being used. It is a low acid shade grown coffee. See more on Respite’s website. A good variety of breakfast selections filled the menu to offset the limited pastry offerings. The microscopic font used for the menu board made for difficult reading if one was over the age of 40 or more than a foot distant from it.
An espresso was ordered and specifically requested to be served for here as most drinks were being dispensed to go and it appeared the espresso was headed that way too if it were not for our intervention. The barista got to work and our expectations were high. She pleasantly delivered the espresso. It was quite lonely, not even a saucer to support it. The crema was white and extremely thin. It may have disappeared entirely had we waited a second longer before consuming it. The aroma was faint and the water content of the shot was copious making for a very weak characterless flavor.
Respite Cappuccino Court, your cafe is charming and has all the right elements to be a bonafide espresso destination. Put some effort into learning the art of pulling a truly good espresso and the quality of all of your espresso drinks will increase significantly. Conquer this challenge and you will be able to serve an espresso knowing that you have mastered the craft; until then your espresso receives a one wheel rating. We prescribe a dose of David Schomer’s publications “Techniques of the Barista” and “Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques”. They are excellent resources for refining the quality of espresso. David Schomer is a recognized world expert in espresso craft. Read The Cycle Cafe’s Rating Guide to gain an idea of what we look for and see at the best espresso bars then add a personal touch of your own.
We look forward to a return trip to Respite to sample the fruits of your labor with high hopes of improvement.
Respite barista at work poised to use a to go cup
Note the tiny font of the wall boards
Who won the showdown?
We can honestly say that we enjoyed the atmosphere of the cafes but were disappointed in the quality of the espresso at both locations. It was a tie in overall rating. Respite had better staff engagement and passion while Uncommon Grounds had a slightly better espresso, however, neither served what would be considered a respectable espresso. We hope that both cafes take our advice to dial in on what it takes to prepare and serve a proper espresso shot. There will be a noticeable improvement in quality of all the espresso drinks served if they do. People of Saugatuck and Douglas you deserve it. The shots you are receiving are not reaping the full benefit of the bean.
This is a good quality espresso. The crema had a lush reddish brown hue with depth and stamina. It had robust aroma and flavor with a sweet finish.
Notice the difference in the color and quality of the crema between the photo above and the photos below. The accompanying seltzer was served prior to the espresso to cleanse the palette. The seltzer, sugar, saucer, spoon, and doily are all part of the thoughtful presentation. Some places will serve a small espresso biscuit or chocolate.
Uncommon Grounds Espresso