Caffeine Chronicles #5: Explores Cafe Racer


Cafe Racer is not your stereotypical coffeehouse.

Nestled in the heart of Ypsilanti’s pleasantly-quirky Depot Town, it would be easy to walk right by the building without giving it a second thought. After all, its primary business is performing motorcycle repairs, so heading inside to pick up a cup of coffee seems about as natural as asking Starbucks to come take a look at your Harley.

John Craddock was the mastermind who decided to open a coffee shop inside the small motorcycle repair shop back in August 2009. From the moment you walk in the door, you’re greeted with a couple of motorcycles just chilling out in what feels like almost a cyclist’s dream living room. Listed on the wall among the coffee options are a “menu” of services the business can offer for your bike.

But don’t dismiss the coffee-making prowess of Cafe Racer, because if there is one thing the staff loves (almost) as much as their bikes, it’s good coffee.

“I think our coffee is just a little bit different from what you might find at other places,” said Eastern Michigan University alumna Malisa Hinderliter, the cafe’s manager or “ringleader,” as she puts it. “We French press all of our coffee. We did try doing the drip coffee at one point, but it seemed like it was bitter; the heat causes the coffee to get bitter.”

The end result of the French press method leaves a bit of the coffee grounds at the bottom of every cup, resulting in a richer, grainier texture not unlike the Turkish coffee we explored in the last Caffeine Chronicles entry. Some coffee nuts (myself included) are all about that sludgy, flavorful stuff, although it is a divisive matter to say the least.

“Some guys love it—it’s the stuff that puts hair on your chest,” Hinderliter said, “and other people are like ‘Oh, what’s that? Is that not right?’”

The coffee itself is provided by Ann Arbor-based Roos Roast Coffee, and Cafe Racer offers two of its organic blends: Lobster Butter Love, which possesses a smooth, almost chocolaty flavor, and the AA Cowboy, a somewhat darker blend.

“I like drinking [the AA Cowboy] without cream and the Lobster [Butter] with cream,” Hinderliter said.

One unique drink Hinderliter created herself is the “Cowboy Butter,” a combination of the two drinks that bursts with both flavors.

Like the bikes the cafe was named after, the coffee shop is stripped down to the necessities. Cafe Racer doesn’t mess around with frou-frou drinks like mochas or cappuccinos; they stick to the basics. If someone comes seeking a more fancy drink, Hinderliter is happy to redirect them to a nearby business.

“I have no problem with supporting other businesses that do have the fancier barista-style drinks,” Hinderliter said. “I will often send people to Ugly Mug if they really want a latte or a cappuccino or even to Cafe Ollie right down the road.”

Cafe Racer is seemingly entwined into Ypsilanti’s culture. Tuesday night’s “Bike Night,” Depot Town’s sort of meet-and-greet for motorcyclists in the area, brings in the most business for the humble coffee shop, providing a comfortable place for the enthusiasts to relax and stay late while sipping a cup of joe. As Hinderliter discovered while working at the shop, the stereotypes don’t always hold.

“There’s this mentality of motorcyclists as roughneck gangsters or highwaymen or ‘Sons of Anarchy’ or whatever, but you start to hang out with them and you realize they’re just everyday people who like to do the same things as everyone else.”

Jess’ pick: Lobster Butter Love

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