Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cool Beans, Baby

I was in Washington D.C. most of last week on business, so I came home to an overwhelming backlog of work at the office and at home. I’ve been pulling late nights and getting up early since Sunday, and It’s starting to take its toll.

I stumbled into the kitchen early this morning, eyes pasted half shut with sleep goo, and went instinctively to the coffee cupboard for my favorite mug. It’s a hearty ceramic jobby that my friends Danny and Jan (which may or may not be their real names) got for me at a Diner near Copper Harbor in the U.P.

I was only half conscious as I reached into the cupboard, but what I grabbed didn’t feel like my favorite cup. It was, in fact, a jar of Taster’s Choice Instant Coffee. It was my dad’s. And right next to that, on the upper shelf above the cups, was my mother’s jar of instant decaffeinated Folgers Crystals.

When my parents come to visit, they bring all of their own supplies. Their own creamer, their own cups, their own pillows, their own Gator Aid. It’s like their trip into the heart of Flint is like some survival expedition. They even bring their own toilet paper. That’s right, their own toilet paper. “That stuff is so expensive,” my mom says. “You don’t need to be paying for all that.”

“But I have a good job, and you’re retired and living on a fixed income. You don’t need to bring your own toilet paper!”

“We only brought four rolls, and if there’s any left we’ll leave it here.”

“But you’re only here for a day and half. How could you possibly need four rolls?”

We don’t use their toilet paper, and we certainly don’t drink their instant coffee. Philip and I have a different philosophy about coffee. First, we like good whole bean Joe that we can grind ourselves. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Flint sells about a dozen varieties of Fair Trade Certified Coffee from around the world for about seven bucks a pound. We usually pick up about seven or eight bags at a time so we always have coffee on hand. My two favorites are the Ethiopian and Columbian varieties.

This morning, I’m finishing off the last of a breakfast blend. We don’t own a coffee pot because several years ago we bought a French Press, and the difference in taste was like night and day. The French Press makes a richer, tastier fuller bodied coffee than the old Mr. Coffee from m y parent’s generation. The only downside is that the presses are made of glass. We’re pretty klutzy around my house, so French Presses don’t last very long.

But then IKEA, the promised land of kitchen gadgets, came out with an insulated stainless steel (or some cheap stainless steel knock-off) French Press. I love this thing. It’s durable. It’s unbreakable, and it’s as big as a standard coffee pot. The price is very reasonable, around twenty five bucks, and worth every penny.

Ten years ago in Flint, getting a good cup of coffee outside your own kitchen was a pretty big challenge. Back then, McDonald’s coffee was practically undrinkable, the Coney Island diner coffee was only a half step up from McDonald’s, and good coffee shops were few and far between. But all that has changed, and good quality coffee is now bountiful in our beloved city.

Places like Starbucks and The Coffee Beanery are the big kids on the block, followed by Border’s and Barnes and Nobel, but we also have some great places nestled in the downtown area. There’s The Brown Sugar Café on Saginaw Street and Steady Eddy’s at the Farmer’s Market. Bu the King of the local coffee shops is The Good Beans Café, owned and operated by Ken Van Wagoner.

Ken opened The Good Beans on the corner of Grand Traverse and First Avenue in Carriage Town almost ten years ago. The café has a long antique bar running the length of the shop (I think it was an original from the Capital Theatre on Second Street) with an equally long mirror on the back wall. The place is intimate with about 8-10 tables, and Ken picks a different local artist each month to showcase their work in the walls of the café.

Ken has always been a staunch supporter of the local community and it has helped make The Good Bean’s Café a fixture in the neighborhood and in the community. In addition to supporting visual artists, Ken has hosted a slew of musicians and poets over the years, but his most laudable contribution to the local creative scene came when he carved out a space next to his coffee shop for the Flint City Theater Group to set up shop.

The group has staged intimate performances of dozens of plays, including my favorite, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a musical. Each year, the group puts on a Halloween show called Scream Theatre, a spooky radio show with music and sketches, written mostly by the actors and troupe members. Ken’s generosity has contributed greatly to the success and longevity of Flint City Theater.

From the start, Ken adopted a simple yet powerful philosophy for running his business, one any local business owner could learn from. According to the website, The Good Beans Cafe is all about coffee, community, environment, and re-investment back into the community. It's the how we do what we do that separates us from our competitors, and will insure years of success as our business grows. We offer an inviting space for hanging out with friends, live entertainment, private party rentals, seminars, lectures, as well as late night study sessions for students, and special events. Our understanding of our community's desire to want positive impacting businesses will help set a model for future positive movement in the ongoing revitalization of Historic Carriage Town

The site also has a link to all of the sponsored events, a full menu, and a photo gallery of the shop and some of the creative drinks you can enjoy. Check out the site at www.thegoodbeanscafe.com. Or better yet, stop by for a great cup of coffee and tour the place yourself.


  1. I can't believe you don't prefer Kenyan coffee beans. I have to rethink some things....

  2. What's this about the Unitarian Church selling coffee?? How do you get it? Just show up and buy a pound?

  3. Awwwww...that's just such a wonderful thing to say, you really are the bees knees!!! Thanks

    by the way, if that is the Higher Grounds product that is an incredible price, and if it is not, you should still buy it for this reason alone... there is no reason you should not. Kinda Zen I know but what an easy way to make a difference.

  4. Hi Ken,

    It's not Higher Ground, but it's really good coffee. I'll bring you a bag so you can check it out.

    Peace and love

  5. Hannah, it's usually twice a month from 11:30 to 12:30. I'll find out which Sundays the display is up and i'll let ya know.

  6. Yeah, mentions of two of my favorite places in Flint: UUCF and Good Beans. And now I need to go to the Ikea site and look for the french press to buy.