In a town already occupied by the likes of the Ugly Mug, Beezy’s Café and B-24’s, it can be a challenge for a new café to carve out a niche. But Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea, which opened at 735 W. Cross Street, has been doing an admirable job at making a name as one of Ypsilanti’s go-to coffee destinations.
Of course, Sweetwaters already has a bit of a fanbase in the area – the café is one of four in the Ann Arbor-based franchise, the other three locations all in Ann Arbor itself. The flagship location was opened in 1993 near the University of Michigan. But after the new café in Ypsilanti opened its doors in mid-March, some Eastern Michigan University students have been making Sweetwaters their favorite study station.
“We see Ypsilanti as a growing community with a lot of youthful, cutting-edge and fun businesses and people,” Julie Depowski, the Ypsilanti location’s general manager, said, explaining the company’s expansion into the area.
The atmosphere of the coffee shop makes it among the most welcoming businesses in the immediate area for working on homework, hosting a small study session or typing out that novel you keep wanting to write. The interior, which is decorated with largely wooden décor, is actually surprisingly spacious, and while the music can be a little loud for patrons who prefer a quieter environment, the shop is well-lit and inviting. In the back of the room is a chalk board with two colorfully-sketched trees, surrounded by doodles and an ever-growing list of the best things about Ypsilanti, as added
by the members of community themselves.
“They wanted to be able to feature artwork and have it be changeable, and the chalk wall is kind of a cool way that people can collaborate together on art,” Max King, an EMU alumnus and one of the café’s baristas, said.
Sweetwaters’ coffees taste smooth and not too overpowering or strong. Before a coffee blend is even introduced, the people behind the scenes put it through a grueling testing process to ensure that the drink is up to par.
“The owners, along with other people who work at Sweetwaters, go through the process of tasting and trying different combinations of beans and different roasts to find ones that will fit in well with the other items that we have to offer, like the food items, and the other espresso drinks,” King said. He mentioned the 4/12 Blend as an example, which took 12 years to develop and incorporate beans from four different continents.
One interesting menu item offered at Sweetwaters is the cold brew coffee, King’s personal favorite drink in the summer.
“The flavor profile is a lot different than a hot-brewed coffee,” King said. “You end up without as much bitterness and acidity, so it’s a really smooth coffee, cold and refreshing.”
The cold brew coffee is steeped in room-temperatre water for 18 hours.
The coffee made from this process is not as bitter as the coffee you’re used to, but don’t be fooled by its relatively sweet flavor – because the brew wasn’t exposed to heat, its caffeine content is even higher than coffee brewed traditionally.
The end result can be mixed with vanilla-flavored syrup and cream for the aptly-named “Dreamy” drink, a cold, creamy beverage that could be described as coffee for people who don’t like coffee; the flavor is anything but harsh and tastes almost like a melted vanilla shake with just a hint of coffee. A twist on this drink is “Dirty,” which uses chocolate syrup instead.
Sweetwaters also offers a variety of teas, so whether you’re a fan of black, green or herbal, you’ll find a flavor that suits your fancy. Iced tea is also available; try a tangy Mandarin Orange Rooibos mixed with lemonade for a refreshing hot-weather treat.
Baked goods are lined up around the cash register area to quell whatever sweet tooth is left after your iced mocha, and if you’re not in the mood for coffee and tea, you can find a selection of non-caffeinated beverages in a cooler. Also in this cooler are a few kinds of pre-made sandwiches; one disadvantage of Sweetwaters is the lack of options in the sandwich area.
Overall,Sweetwaters is a welcome addition to Ypsilanti’s array of coffee shops, boasting good drinks along with a friendly atmosphere and even friendlier staff.
“My favorite part about Sweetwaters is the people,” King said. “Not just the people that work here – because they’re great – but also the people that come in. We have a lot of regulars that come in quite frequently and it’s great to get to know people’s names and faces. And then you see them later on in Ypsi and you feel like you have a lot of friends.”
“It is fun and motivating to be able to become part of our customers’ daily lives and to be able to build relationships,” Depowski said. “It doesn’t feel like work at all when you look forward to seeing your customers and your staff every day.”