Greetings fellow coffee lovers and friends. Welcome to my table here in the corner of JP’s Coffee and Espresso Bar in Holland, Michigan. This cafe is humongous, but all of the tables were filling up quickly and it didn’t look like people were leaving, so I reserved a place for you here at the table.
Feel free to pull up a chair.
Last week, Ashley, Duncan, and I decided to go on a little Thanksgiving road trip and ventured up to Holland to visit her sisters for the holiday. While cruising around the downtown area with Ashley and one of her sisters, Tiffany, I was reminded that I never got around to writing a review of JP’s Coffee and Espresso Bar. Sure enough, when I checked WordPress, I saw that I saved a draft of a review but didn’t actually write any words or upload any pictures. There was just a title and a blinking cursor on an otherwise blank screen.
If you are familiar with JP’s or the city of Holland, Michigan, this is, of course, a grave injustice.
If you’re not familiar, JP’s Coffee and Espresso Bar is the second of Holland’s two big coffee shops (or the first, depending on how you look at things). The other is Lemonjello’s Coffee, located just one block south. There are, of course, other coffee shops in the area—Good Earth, a few Starbucks, maybe a Caribou or two—, but Lemonjello’s and JP’s are really the only two genuine coffee shops to speak of; they’re the only two that take coffee seriously, and the only two that are committed to providing the general public with great coffee and espresso.
These two cafes, though, aren’t directly rivals of each other. Rather, the two of them serve two completely different types of people, and they are both completely conscious of that fact. So, instead of being cutthroat and attempt to steal each other’s clientele, both of them instead seek to provide the best experience possible for their regulars.
Lemonjello’s is the hipster-friendly, rough-around-the-edges, indie-rock-pouring-out-of-the-overhead-speakers, cool place for ultra cool high school kids to be cool, Hope College students to study, and other young adults to serry together. JP’s Coffee and Espresso Bar, on the other hand, is a bit more refined. A bit more high-brow. A bit classier.
They’re not as concerned with “interesting” art hanging on the walls, or “interesting” music playing in the store, or “interesting” decor, or even “interesting” latte flavors. They’re not as concerned about being hip or irreverent or cool. They’re not as concerned with peace, justice, social change, and sustainability—they leave all of that for the Lemonjello’s crew to cover. No, JP’s is much more concerned about providing a quiet, relaxing place to savor a hot mug of coffee. They’re more focused high-quality coffee and espresso. They pride themselves on coffee flavor profiles, espresso techniques, brewing methods, and the perfect pour.
Let me put it like this—if the two were music movements, Lemonjello’s would be the early 21st century indie scene, and JP’s would be early 20th century American classical music; Lemonjello’s is Arcade Fire, and JP’s is George Gershwin. If the two were books, Lemonjello’s would be Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, and JP’s would be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. If the two were television sitcoms, Lemonjello’s would be Arrested Development, and JP’s would be Frasier.
You get my point. Both are great, both definitely have their merits, but both may not necessarily be for everyone.
You can immediately tell all of this when you walk into the building. The lighting is warm and soft, the overhead speakers gently lull you in with either classical or jazz, some of the couches and chairs are leather, the booths and tables are made of high-quality wood, the seating is spacious, and the floor plan is wide open. The atmosphere is really quite reminiscent of a public library. There isn’t a lot of chatter and boisterousness in JP’s—just a hushed reverence for high-quality coffee.
More importantly than all of that though, their coffee, which they roast themselves, is really good. You can purchase a brewed cup from the bar, or purchase any of their roasts whole bean. You may want to give yourself some time to peruse the shelves though—their selection of roasts is massive. I wanted to provide a specific number here by counting them all up at their online store, but I lost count after ten. Whether you’re a single origin snob, or a connoisseur of blends, or decaf-dependent, or even if you haven’t aged past 1995 and still drink flavored coffees, JP’s has a little bit of something for everyone.
And all of the employees at JP’s have a deep-rooted love for these coffees. They’re all very proficient at their jobs, they’re all very knowledgeable, and they’re all very talented baristas. Of all the times I’ve been there, and of all the different baristas I’ve had serve me, I’ve never had a time when the shot of espresso wasn’t perfect, or the pour wasn’t calculated and precise, or the art on top of my cappuccino or latte wasn’t impressive. In fact, one of their baristas, Terika Raak, even competed in last year’s Coffee Fest in Seattle and came in third place. Third place is impressive, but even more impressive for a Midwesterner competing in the belly of the coffee Mecca that is Seattle.
The judges at these events rate the baristas in five categories: 1) aesthetic beauty, 2) definition, 3) color infusion, 4) degree of difficulty and creativity, and 5) speed. Coffee is serious business. The owner of JP’s, Jack Groot, understands that, and he wants all of his staff to understand that, and he wants the general public to understand that. This is why he partnered with the Midwest Barista School to establish the Home Barista Training program inside the cafe.
This program, which is conducted using JP’s second full-service espresso bar, is a four-hour session that teaches the students how to understand the espresso machine, grinder and accessories, taste espresso, pull the perfect shot, steam milk properly, and the basics of latte and cappuccino and latte art. Much like the classes that Counter Culture Coffee’s training centers provide, this class is an introduction to the finer side of coffee. Granted, a student won’t become a master barista in that short four-hour time frame, but it at least provides some basic knowledge for people who want to become baristas or home baristas, or people who are just interested in coffee.
JP’s Coffee and Espresso Bar has been around for almost 20 years now and has been providing the city of Holland with a refuge from big business coffee chains. I’d really like to see them get more with the times by embracing the so-called “third wave” of single-cup brewing methods and getting rid of all the flavored coffee bugaboo, but their popularity and continuing success give me hope. It’s reassuring to see a business like this—one that prides itself on being a more highly cultured and sophisticated coffee business—thrive when the likes of a Starbucks or a Caribou can so easily take over a city like Holland.