Situated comfortably among the name-brand shops that line the streets of downtown Ann Arbor lies a cafe that prides itself on originality. There are no chains in foreign cities nor a neon sign that electrifies the door — only a reputation that whispers across campus and city streets alike. With the lightest of touches, the country screen doors open into a coffeehouse like no other, as well as a place where the mainstream is turned away faster than decaffeinated coffee.
At least, this was the establishment John Roos might have envisioned while he brewed his signature coffee from a job at a local car dealership. And when customers eventually started coming around for their daily caffeinated fix, the idea behind RoosRoast Coffee was birthed. Since its conception, RoosRoast has been operating on Rosewood Street, where they continue to brew their own coffee made with beans purchased direct from the origin.
However, this past March, the company took over a spot on East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor and became a sort of successor to Elixir Vitae. With closer ties to downtown and the University of Michigan campus, RoosRoast has been the talk of the semester among coffee fanatics and caffeine addicts alike, and the company has enjoyed their newfound popularity under the stress of a city that never sleeps.
To learn more about the newly opened second establishment, The Michigan Daily spent a sunny Monday afternoon on a coffee date with Katherine Weider-Roos, co-owner and wife to RoosRoast founder John Roos.
The philosophy at RoosRoast is simple — to brew the perfect cup of coffee. Whether through AeroPress, steeping, cold brew or a rigged nitro experiment, Roos is always looking for the perfect balance of natural flavors against caffeine intensity.
“People treat coffee a little bit different,” Weider-Roos said. “If you’re doing a lighter roast, it’s just a taste thing. You’re sipping it a little more like wine — it’s a little bit lighter. Especially if you have a really good quality cup (of) coffee.” This partially explains the reason their loud and busy cafe is set up in the style of a bar, sporting high-tops over quaint little tables.
“You want to roast a coffee just the right amount so you don’t blow out all the notes. That’s why when we get single origins in, we usually have a more medium light treatment to it. It’s a delicate dance to do those delicate roasts right so they all don’t taste the same.”
As far as similar tastes go, RoosRoast has more than outdone themselves. With a selection of coffees and teas that range from the dark, electrifying “Portland in the ’90s” to the organically supplied “Spicy Ginger Lemon” tea, the cafe caters to all tastes and preferences. The detail that goes into catering to needs of their customers is down to a fine point, brewing their drinks organically and allowing patrons to customize their drinking experience to their own taste.
“We have a big thing about not making sweetened drinks, letting people add their honey or their sweetener. But when you go around to all the cafes, everything is sweetened — they hand you something sweetened,” Weider-Roos said. “We wanted to have something (where people) can add their (own) level of sweetness.”
This includes their one-of-a-kind “AeroPress Bar,” which brews their specialty coffee faster than most other large-yield means and in a way that really lets you taste all of the natural flavor that’s made their name in the coffee business.
“You can try any of our coffees with the AeroPress … and it just brews a more complex, rich cup of coffee than a drip would. It allows you to really taste our coffee.” Of course, their AeroPress is second only to the excellent cold brew that is produced by the gallon on a day-to-day basis at RoosRoast.
Over the past few years, cold-brew coffee has worked its way up into the hierarchy of caffeinated beverages, overtaking iced coffee in a debate that has sparked mixed opinions on both sides. Critically acclaimed and favored for its wholesome flavor and smooth finish, the cold brew is rapidly gaining popularity in cafes worldwide. However, since the process of steeping a cold brew can take up to 24 hours, iced coffee is often served as a quick alternative. Hailed for its strength and caffeine-to-water ratio, RoosRoast produces cold brew daily, and never seems to run out of the stuff that keeps us running.
“It’s like a concentrate, so it’s meant to withhold the melting of the ice so you still have something drinkable after the ice melts. So it’s a really good cold brew,” Weider-Roos said with a smile, citing the numerous comments that their Instagram page has received regarding the sheer caffeinated strength of their cold brew.
“The cold brew kind of jacks you up. The whole process is an immersion … it never touches hot water. You let it soak in the water for almost 24 hours — cold water — so it never touches hot water. It cools out all the caffeine in this totally different way. It’s kind of like a drug.”
The opportunity to sample their brew only further proved that the rumors are, in fact, true — it’s strong as hell.
The experience of drinking the one-of-a-kind coffee and specialty drinks served at RoosRoast’s newest location is certainly memorable. With loud Cuban jazz playing through the speakers and the amicable barista-to-patron interactions, it’s easy to get lost in the good ambiance. And though the storefront has changed in the gutting process, what once stood as the second location of the Elixir Vitae coffeehouse on East Liberty is now RoosRoast. However, patrons of the previous venue would be remiss if they didn’t recognize the flavor.
“This was (Elixir Vitae’s) second location — he served RoosRoast,” Weider-Roos said.
The rumor circulating around the coffee-addicted forums of Ann Arbor that RoosRoast supplied Elixir Vitae with their roasts is, in fact, true. So when the owner of Elixir gave up their second location, patrons were thrown for a little bit of a shock.
“This was becoming too much for him to manage (the two places) I think,” Weider-Roos said. “So he wanted to get out of his lease … I think it was a great gift. Like saying, ‘Hey I want you guys to take over my lease, what do you think?’ So it was more sort of handing it to us, in a way.”
It was, in a way, like choosing RoosRoast as the successor to Elixir; passing on the torch to a new generation of roasting and opening the door to the third wave coffee movement. “He was serving RoosRoast and that way (the people) can still get RoosRoast,” Weider-Roos said.
So far, business has been booming at the second location of RoosRoast, which is conveniently closer to campus and thus more readily accessible to students than their base location.
“It’s like your whole world changes, because of the complexity of it … almost like being in newborn crisis mode,” Weider-Roos said. “The vibes, the people and the demand for it — it’s like having a party. It’s so fun to be down here. It gives us exposure here to people who aren’t able to go out to Rosewood.”
Being this close to campus, coffee shops are often utilized as a fresh study space for students who need a caffeine fix to stay up that extra three or four hours to finish an assignment. So with its high stools and standing room only, RoosRoast carries the ambiance more of a grab-and-go shop versus a hot study space.
“We wanted to be more like a neighborhood bar, it’s about having a meeting and talking. Stand and go … it’s not like a quiet little library. It’s like a moving thing: we’re going to be shouting, we’re going to be doing things. It’s kind of like a place — a social, vibrant community place rather than a library place.”
With a smile, Weider-Roos described their newest location as “a little bit like performance, crazy (and) social. It’s not like this all the time, but we’re just loud people and we also like to have a good time while we’re working. It’s like a neighborhood bar, but with coffee. Where people are getting jacked up, not drunk.”
Another feature of RoosRoast is commonly shared by cafes worldwide: food. Not just any food, but a specific brand of food that leans towards organic and healthy, kept across the move from Elixir Vitae.
“We wanted an element of light food. Not a full-service kitchen but something with your coffee: small bites.” Weider-Roos said. “You go to a lot of cafes and it’s just sugar, white flour — we have that too (laughs). But we also have other options: protein and things we would eat at home.”
So, even if you’re not in for an early-morning cramming session, RoosRoast is still an available stop to come in to get your most important meal of the day with some of the best coffee and service this side of Michigan.
Of course, we saved our most important question for last: “If you could have one item off of the entire menu, what would it be?”
“Personally, we have to have espresso,” Weider-Roos said. “Our espresso blend is amazing right now. That’s a personal (choice). I would have to say, from a consumer point of view, I would be outvoted and it would be Lobster Butter Love. Maybe it has crack cocaine in it? It’s a bit of a cult; like, it’s 50 percent of our sales. I send it to Portland, Ore. You’d think they’d have good coffee in those places, but I ship Lobster Butter Love there.”
If it’s good enough for Portland, it’s good enough for us.