Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Best student-friendly coffee houses in GR

Photo by Hayley Cox

The Sparrows

Ericka Buitenhuis

As customers slowly peruse the large selection of lidless jars covering the top of the counter, the barista at The Sparrows on Wealthy Street patiently waits for them to make their selection.

“My favorite part was the atmosphere,” said senior Emily Veenstra. “The entire ambience — the hand-written menus, loose tea in jars, magazines for sale, old building — was warm and inviting.”

For first time visitors, the setup of The Sparrows may be a bit intimidating; the chalkboard hanging on the wall behind the register seems rather small compared to the vast assortment of loose leaf teas available.

This set up, however, allows customers to purchase anything from a suggestion off the menu to a concoction of their own creation.

“The baristas are great with switching up orders,” Veenstra said. “When I go back I will probably switch up [the drink I get] because there were so many creative ways to go and the barista seemed to encourage branching from the small menu.”

Besides providing a unique location for a study session, first date or good chat with a friend, The Sparrows also sells over 75 different magazines and newspapers to serve as a complement to a steaming cup of coffee.

“The entire atmosphere is more laid-back,” admitted Veenstra. “Unlike Starbucks, they ask if your drink is here or to go, then give you a glass [or] disposable cup accordingly.  The glass or mug seems to say, “You are welcome to stay for an extended period of time.”

Students in search of a unique spot to spend a fall evening may find The Sparrows both a delicious endeavor and satisfying sampling of the Grand Rapids coffee shop scene.

“I think you can learn a lot about what the community values by seeing what there tends to be a lot of,” said Veenstra, “Grand Rapids has a lot of really good local restaurants and coffee houses. In exploring more of these, you are getting a sense for a small portion of the Grand Rapids community.”


Kava House

Hayley Cox

Ask most college students around Grand Rapids what their go-to coffee shop is, and chances are Kava House will be in their top picks. On the corner of Lake Dr. and Genessee St., the coffee shop sits on the edge of Eastown and half a block up from the Line 6 bus stop.

The coffee shop has three potential seating areas: an indoor area with booths, bars and free-standing tables; an enclosed patio with plush chairs and large tables for groups; and a covered outdoor area on the corner with both tables and lawn chairs.

“Kava House has a spacious interior and a friendly atmosphere and is a great option for study groups,” said senior Caitlin Gent.

Besides the actual space, Kava also offers a wide variety of drinks and food, with a fair mix of staples and seasonal specialties.

“There are so many great choices at Kava,” said fifth-year senior Lauren Cremean. “I had a Dragon Fly just because it sounded cool. I’d never had cherry and almond together [with cider and soda] before, but it was delicious!”

Kava favorites are the Black Cat and Snickers, hazelnut and caramel mochas respectively, but their straight coffee is hit or miss.

“Kava House caters best to people who are looking for something sweeter than black coffee,” said Gent. “This is not the place for coffee purists. However, what Kava House lacks in elegant pourover contraptions it makes up for with a rich array of delicious lattes, hot chocolates and steamers, as well as a decent tea selection.”

Kava also has a selection of unique coffee, tea and soda smoothies, and the Kona Hurricane (coffee and chocolate) as a customer favorite.

Their rotating variety of pastries are also popular.

“[Kava’s] mystery layer bar [chocolate, caramel, coconut, dried fruit, and oats] is truly mysterious but very delicious,” said Cremean.

Kava sells an assortment of cookies and bagels as well, many of which are gluten-free.

Overall, its an ideal coffee house for students. “Kava House is like Hekman,” said Cremean. “There’s space for the loud ones and the quiet ones.”

The Lanturn

Katelyn Bosch and Becca Bosch

The Lantern is located downtown on Commerce Street. When you walk into The Lantern, you are greeted with a warm atmosphere and baristas ready to take your order. After you get your drink, you have the option to go to the lower level where there is a variety of seating: couches, long tables, high tables — even desks with individual lamps.

Elizabeth, who frequents the Lantern, said: “The vibe is awesome; there are lots of options for seating with low lights.” The two-level setup is something else Elizabeth appreciates. “I like that there are two floors so there is less noise pollution.”

The Lantern is reminiscent of a hipster’s loft, with wooden beams, a platform with couches, and assorted brick walls. As the name suggests, there are lanterns on the walls. The Lantern is also highly-committed to being waste-free and therefore serves all “for here” drinks in large mugs. Its tagline is “Good coffee. A place to gather.” The Lantern is a great place to do work, but, as the tagline suggests, it is also a great place to have a business meeting, go on a coffee date or even meet new people, all while supporting a local business.




Jon Gorter

From dimly lit cozy alcoves to eccentric, 24/7 java joints, Grand Rapids coffeehouses have a myriad of tastes, aromas and atmospheres to satisfy both the caffeine addict and picky palate alike. It is worth the time to explore every coffeehouse, but one cafe delivers a drink that stands above the rest.

“At MadCap, every batch of beans is hand-selected by employees and roasted on-site,” said Matthew Schepers, a local Rapidian well versed in Grand Rapids coffeehouses. “This ensures the freshness and quality of the coffee.” The roasting process also fills the cafe and nearby sidewalks with an aroma that enhances the coffee drinking experience.

Try a pour over by one of MadCap’s highly trained, conversational, expert baristas, and this coffee will have your taste buds lighting up with the complex flavors of their ethically sourced, direct-trade beans. Not only does the coffee draw in visitors from all over, but the cafe itself has a reputation for being an open, bright, welcoming destination.

“[MadCap] is not your typical coffeehouse study venue — its more of a conversational, get-together spot” said Schepers.

Small cushioned chairs and a sit-down bar offer seating, and large windows open up the small space, providing an excellent view of the street and warming the wood floors with natural lighting.

Whether you are a coffee connoisseur or a first-time sipper, MadCap provides a warm, welcoming experience that neither you nor your taste buds will easily forget.


Fish House

The Fish House rivals any coffee shop in the city, both in its laid-back atmosphere and the quality of its drinks. It is more convenient than other coffee shops, however, because it is right here on campus. According to the Calvin dining services website:

“the Fish House features fresh fair trade coffee, teas, breakfast pastries, and specialty coffees. The atmosphere is a comfortable place to study, meet, or enjoy a cup of java.”

The Fish House is a great place to do homework or talk with a friend.

Freshman Jessica Bouma says she enjoys going to the Fish House often, especially in the fall because “I like their cider drinks and their fall selection.” Bouma also says that “it’s a really good place to spend bonus bucks.”

On Thursday nights, the Fish House isn’t so quiet because the Cave Cafe, a student organization, puts on shows or has an open mic so students can come and perform. Coffee, music and fellowship, all right here on campus — does it get better than that?


The Bitter End

Lauren DeHaan

This 24/7 coffee shop is settled in a century-old bank building in Grand Rapids’ West Side.

“I love the setting of it,” said senior Joel Gustafson. “It is a little small, but they have a good variety of specialty drinks.”

According to their website, The Bitter End roasts high-shade-grown arabica beans in small batches, providing fresh and rich coffee to patrons. They also offer a vast array of other custom and specialty teas and beverages for non-coffee drinkers.

“I enjoy the fact that it is open 24/7. It is a really good place to study and has a variety of drinks from basic coffee to more ‘fru-fru’ drinks,” said senior Claire Dornbush. “The downside is that it is far away. It also doesn’t have a lot of outlets,” she continued.

The Bitter End is located at 752 West Fulton St., about a 20-minute drive from Calvin. This coffee shop is the place of choice when you have to pull an all-nighter. It is also a great spot to meet with groups or have a coffee date.


Common Ground Coffee Shop

Nathan Slauer

Common Ground Coffee House welcomes its customers with the catchphrase, “caffeinating commoners ’til kingdom come.” By reading this motto alone, one gets an immediate impression about what this coffee house is all about: building a small, yet tight-knit community of loyal customers, serving great quality and maintaining a casual, slightly sassy atmosphere.

When you drive to Common Ground, be aware that its’ pretty easy to miss. The coffee house is tucked neatly into the corner of East Fulton Street and Arthur Avenue and shares a building with Schnitz deli. Common Ground is relatively small, and is split between two rooms, one filled with tables, a stained glass window and the coffee menu; and another filled with more tables, comfy leather chairs, and a bookcase stacked with an eclectic mix of novels and board games.

The coffee and food served at Common Ground are great. Common Ground has a huge selection of coffee beans, all of which were brewed in Grand Rapids, Traverse City and Lansing. Each cup of coffee is affordably priced and the Common Ground’s weekly specials and punch card system keeps customers coming back. Common Grounds’ food is also locally produced, serving sandwiches filled with meat from the Schnitz deli next door and bread from Schnitz bakery.

What really makes Common Ground come alive is its collection of regular customers. No matter what time or the day of the week you visit Common Ground, you are bound to run into the same group of five or six men playing chess at the table closest. Last November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) with last year’s Chimes editor-in-chief Joseph Matheson. Each week, we worked on our novels together in the same corner of Common Ground and each week we nodded or waved at the chess group. Joining the true commoners in their daily journey to their favorite place to hang out was a lot of fun.

Only one negative memory stands out to me from my many visits to Common Ground. Once I went to the coffee shop and told Joseph about the details of a recent philosophy of gender class I recently attended. After overhearing us loudly debate about every gender-related topic from objectification to masculinity, a nearby patron walked to our table and said (plus an expletive or two) “we understand you’re feminists already. Now please shut up!” To be fair, the incident was no fault of the coffee house itself and our obnoxiously noisy conversation deserved to be called out. For the record, Common Ground is an excellent place to hold lively and opinionated conversations so long as one remains considerate of their neighbors.

Plus, in the words of general manager Zach Bruursema, Common Ground “we make a mean latté.”



Jerry Grieser

When you walk into Rowster Coffee for the first time, you may be a little intimidated. There is no obvious menu, there is an impressive espresso bar thats seems as if it is from the future, the walls are hung with local artwork and the whole place seems to be filled with people who know more about coffee than you do. However, that should not worry you. The baristas behind the counter have supreme knowledge of the intricacies of the craft of coffee and are more than willing to help you. From start to finish, they control the entire process of selection, roasting and brewing, resulting in some of the best coffee around. It’s no secret either; if you look at various locales around Grand Rapids, you will see Rowster Coffee. Rowster does an incredible job of partnering with the community. You will find their coffee at local breweries, ice cream parlors, cupcake shops, store openings and even churches. The people at Rowster care deeply for their craft and the community they are in. Rowster has even expanded into other realms of the beverage industry, starting a coffee subscription service and a soda company. Their coffee subscription service, called Regular Coffee, sends high-quality Rowster coffee directly to your door, so you will always have that perfect cup. Their soda company, called Hop Soda, makes a very crisp, refreshing soda made with hops and has a taste that cannot be replicated. When you step into Rowster Coffee, know that the baristas will be able to make you the perfect latte, espresso, cappuccino, or cup of coffee that you need.

More to Discover