Sunday, August 9, 2020

The State News taste-tests East Lansing coffee

August 27, 2019
<p>Coffee cups from around East Lansing photographed on Aug. 13, 2019.</p>

Coffee cups from around East Lansing photographed on Aug. 13, 2019.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Last year, The State News listed the top five East Lansing coffee shops judged by price, location and atmosphere. But where is the best-tasting coffee? 

I performed a blind taste-test along with summer Editor-in-Chief Kaitlyn Kelley, summer Photo Editor Matt Zubik and Staff Reporter Pete Hulett. We tried coffees from five places near our office on Grand River Avenue and scored them on a scale from one to 10 based entirely on flavor, without knowing which coffee came from where.

5. Sparty’s

If you’re ever rushing to get some cheap caffeine in your system between classes, you know this on-campus staple with 21 locations across MSU. But what Sparty’s has in convenience and low price, it loses in flavor. Even Pete, who liked the medium roast from the MSU Main Library Sparty’s the most out of any of us, later admitted he couldn’t finish the full cup without any cream or sugar. 

It smelled like paint thinner and tasted burnt and extremely bitter. 

“Is this even coffee?” Kaitlyn asked in her notes.

Average score: 3.5/10

4. Starbucks

We all expected the national chain to do better, but my notes describe the Pike Place Blend as “bitter, dark and ashy.” Some of us didn’t hate the bitter notes, though. 

If you like your coffee on the dark and strong side, the flavor might be for you. Even the tall-sized coffee — the smallest size at Starbucks — cost us $2.

You can probably do better elsewhere, especially among all the options in Downtown East Lansing.

Average score: 4.75/10

3. Blue Owl

The newcomer to East Lansing was unique in this taste test because — while the other coffees we tasted were blends — we ordered a Brazil single-origin coffee roasted by Lansing's own 517 Coffee Company at Blue Owl. 

While Blue Owl is in the middle of the list, their coffee was anything but middling. Our individual scores ranged from a 3/10 to a 9/10, and we thought it tasted fruity and astringent compared to the bitter and dark flavors of the rest of the coffee we tested.

Those flavors are trendy lately in the “third wave of coffee,” but aren’t to everyone’s liking. Matt thought it was mellow and I described it as pleasantly bright, but Pete said it tasted “just ... off.”

Average score: 6.25/10

2. Biggby

We ordered the Lansing native’s house blend at their location in the MSU Union. Our consensus was that it tasted “like coffee,” as Kaitlyn’s notes put it. 

It wasn’t overly bitter or sour, and didn’t smell strongly like anything. It was friendly, smooth and familiar, and we were all fans. It’s also widely available and inexpensive.

Average score: 7/10

1. Espresso Royale

The coffee shop just north of campus barely beat out Biggby for us, tasting similar. We thought it tasted pleasantly bitter, dark and like chocolate. We all noted how similar the coffee shops tasted, with many of us guessing that Espresso was Biggby, and vice versa. 

The winners for us were coffees that tasted classic, dark and balanced. And these two long-time East Lansing staples delivered. 

Espresso Royale’s coffee was just slightly more flavorful, giving it the edge over Biggby.

Average Score: 7.25/10

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