Is there anything better than a really good cup of coffee?
Whether it’s that first cup that jumpstarts your morning and consequently sets the tone for your entire day, or that after dinner cappuccino that puts an exclamation point at the end of a satisfying meal, coffee has the power to embody comfort, creativity, and community all in one 12-16 oz cup.
And if the coffeeshop itself has a unique story to tell, that’s the recipe for a memorable coffee experience.
I recently had a cup of coffee so amazing, I paused after the first sip and swished it in my mouth like fine wine. It was so tasty, it inspired this entire blog post theme. To keep you in suspense (yes, I can make coffee dramatic), I will reveal the location of this rousing cup of Joe at the end of this list, which I will update every day for five days, counting down from 5 to 1, based on its distance from my hometown of Chicago.
That’s right, you’ll have to check this post every day for the latest installment.
So put “Check The Backstory Kitchen Blog” on your daily to-do list with playing Wordle and Connections.
Here they are, the 5 Most Memorable Coffee Shops in the Midwest…Starting with No. 5.
5. Vintage Paris ~ Hollister, MO (near Branson)
To be honest, everything about my family’s trip to Branson, MO was memorable, because it took place during Spring Break of 2021. (i.e. Our first vacation after the pandemic!) We hadn’t traveled in two years and were perhaps easily amused. But Branson really is a beautiful and fun place to visit. With a darling downtown district, a touristy area similar to Wisconsin Dells, top-notch fishing and boating on Table Rock Lake, mesmerizing vistas and overlooks around every turn, and jaw-dropping beauty nearby at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, it’s jam-packed with activities and adventure.
When you think Branson, chances are you’re not thinking of a cute, eclectic French inspired café with mind-blowing coffee drinks, and that’s what made Vintage Paris in Hollister, MO, so unusual. The canary yellow building sits across the street from a scenic overlook (and not far from a trout hatchery run by the Missouri Department of Conservation ) but this photo-worthy stop isn’t what drew me to this coffeeshop. It was their menu of specialty lattes named after famous French history makers, from Napoleon to Monet to Joan of Arc, or artists who spent a lot of time in France, like Van Gogh in Provence.
The décor inside this unique café is definitely French bohemian, including a macramé hanging swing, cozy couches and chairs, books going every which way, and mirrors leaning against the wall. And while this might be reason enough to stop in, the coffee really speaks for itself.
7900 Historic Hwy 165, Hollister, MO 65672At Vintage Paris, I ordered the Renoir—dark chocolate, coconut and almond—and it was the very best latte I ever had in my life! As in, I can close my eyes now and still taste it. The quality of the ingredients, the blend of flavors, the barista’s craftmanship seriously wowed me. I made the mistake of letting my kids taste my drink and had to steal it back from them before it was all gone. I savored every sip. I only wish I could have tried all of the lattes; the Van Gogh with lavender and honey was my second choice.
If you are in the Branson area, you must stop by this truly unique coffeeshop and treat yourself to a one-of-a-kind experience. Vintage Paris is located at 7900 Historic Hwy 165, Hollister, MO 65672 WEBSITE
4. Higher Grounds Coffee ~ Traverse City, Michigan
Beyond the beautiful lakes and beaches and orchards, Traverse City, Michigan is a foodie’s playground. From the Cherry Republic shops with free tastings to the outdoor food truck food court called “The Little Fleet” to the farm fresh local ice cream shop called Moomers, there’s a lot of fabulous eating to do here.
But if we’re talking specifically coffee, Higher Grounds, adjacent to The Village of Grand Traverse Commons, is a very memorable shop . The now shopping center was once a psychiatric hospital, The Traverse City State Hospital, a building that is both stately and foreboding.
Opened in 1885 as the Northern Michigan Asylum, the Victorian-Italianate style hospital was unique not only in architecture but in medical practices. Dr. James Decker Munson, founding Medical Superintendent, believed that “Beauty is Therapy” and that a patient’s mental and emotional health could be improved by beautiful surroundings. For this reason, all patients had a window to view nature and ate their meals on fine china. Read more about the hospital’s history HERE.
Being a history nerd, and a writer of suspense fiction, I put a visit to this National Register of Historic Places site on my list of things to do when I traveled to Traverse City in the Summer of 2019. Renovated and reopened in 2002, The Village of Grand Traverse Commons is today a bustling shopping, dining and condo complex.
Now back to the coffee…I’m the kind of person who needs and enjoys a midday pick me up, so after shopping, I stopped at Higher Grounds for an afternoon treat. There is so much to love about this eco-friendly shop that roasts sustainable, high quality coffee sourced directly from farmers. This is coffee you can feel good about drinking and buying, and tasty to boot. I ordered a lavender honey latte and was so excited when I ordered it to go and was told they didn’t use disposable cups. Intsead, I should pick which mug I wanted from their “Take it or leave it” coffee mug wall.
Coffee and a free souvenir mug? Yes, please!
My latte was beautiful. The design created with the crema and microfoam (this is called latte art, apparently) was photo worthy, and the lavender and honey infused coffee proved to be perfectly sweet and subtly floral. As I sipped my delicious coffee, with the former psychiatric hospital as a backdrop, this was one of those life travel snapshots I knew I wouldn’t soon forget.
But wait…there’s more. (I should do infomercials!) There’s a unique tourist spot within walking distance of the coffee shop and shopping center. It’s called “The Hippie Tree.” A short walk through a forest and wildflowers takes you to a massive fallen tree that over the years, people have spray painted with all sorts of colorful messages and images. I read about it on that fun place called the internet, and my family—especially my kids—really enjoyed this unique nature hike to an obscure photo stop in the woods.
If you find yourself in the Traverse City area, you must swing by Higher Grounds Coffee at The Village of Grand Traverse Commons for a memorable mix of history and whimsy.
Higher Grounds Coffee is located at 806 Red Dr, Traverse City, MI 49684 WEBSITE
The Village of Grand Traverse Commons is located at a 200 W Eleventh St, Traverse City, MI 49684 WEBSITE
3. Bankhaus~Amana, Iowa
When I was a kid, I remember hearing people mention “The Amana Colonies” from time to time, but to be honest, I thought it had something to do with the original 13 colonies and The Revolutionary War.
I didn’t fully discover what the Amana area had to offer until I was an adult, looking for a cute place for a mother-daughter weekend trip near Chicago. When I Googled it, Amana popped up on many lists and reviews as a perfect destination for a girls weekend. I decided to take my mom, Gail (the wonderful woman who gave me my middle name), there as a birthday gift. And we soon found out, those reviewers were right!
Amana is located near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and about a 3 ½ to 4 ½ hour drive away from the Chicago area, depending on where you live. It’s a darling, nostalgic town with a main thoroughfare of stone and wood buildings, full of gift shops, restaurants, bakeries, wineries and more. It’s a National Historic Landmark, and thus, steeped in history and that’s where the “colonies” part comes in to play. There are seven German villages—Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, and Homestead-—that make up the Amana Colonies.
These colonies were established in 1855 by the “Community of True Inspiration,” a German group seeking religious freedom in America. They developed these villages about one mile apart and lived communally, each member playing an important role in society with assigned jobs from the village council. There were no wages for work because no one needed money. Every human need—home, school, food, medical care, and connection—was provided by the community.
While in Amana, my mom and I toured one of the community kitchens, where women cooked three meals a day, plus snacks, and the community ate together. All of the food they cooked in these kitchens came from the growers and farmers of their community. More information about the history of the colonies is HERE.
After checking in at Zuber’s Homestead Hotel, a Bed & Breakfast with 15 unique guest rooms and the most delightful breakfasts served in a “wagon wheel” room, we headed to town to start our shopping adventure. But by that time, we needed a little pick me up, so our first stop was a coffee shop at end of the main thoroughfare.
But this was no ordinary coffee shop. It was in a…bank. That’s right, you can make a deposit and grab a latte all in one trip at Bankhaus, a division of Fairfax State Savings Bank. At first, we questioned if we were in the right place. It very much looks like a bank inside, though a very nicely decorated one. However, past the lobby was the coffee bar, Neuhaus Kaffe (Coffee) boasting beautiful wood floors and ceiling beams, plus a community table that looked perfect for a group meeting.
And the coffee was superb! Strong and rich in flavor yet incredibly smooth. This is not your run-of-the-mill Starbucks. We ordered Americanos, and the friendly barista handcrafted our drinks with love, in line with the bank’s ideology of the German gemutlichkeit, which means a place of warmth and friendliness.
I almost didn’t put this coffee shop on the list because I couldn’t find the pictures I took of it or of Amana in 2017. I got a nicer, newer smart phone in 2018 and unfortunately, looked high and low for those photos but couldn’t find them. So my descriptions will have to do. I did have photos from a follow up trip in 2018—yes, we liked it so much, we went back again the next summer for my birthday—so I’ve included those here.
If you're not much into coffee and prefer wine, the Amana area has several wineries, including Ackerman Winery, which boasts a truly unique and delicious Rhubarb Wine (rhubarb is very big in the Amana Colonies, especially rhubarb pie, without the strawberry to which everyone is accustomed) and Fireside Winery, that upholds a store in town and a winery out in the country, where we enjoyed a glass, live music and other nibbles.
You must add historic Amana and a stop at Bankhaus to your Midwest travel list!
Bankhaus is located at 4304 220th Trail, Amana, IA 52203
Zuber's Homestead Hotel is located at 2206 44th Ave, Homestead, IA 52236
Fireside Winery is located at 1755 P Ave, Marengo, IA 52301 and their store in is located at 4402 220th Trail Amana, Iowa, 52203
Ackerman Winery is located at 4406 220th Trail Amana, Iowa, 52203
Find out more about Amana and download a digital Visitor’s Guide
Ready for No. 2 on the list? This time, I didn’t order coffee but something equally tasty.
Come back on Monday for the next installment (Yes, we’re taking the weekend off! )
Enjoy your weekend--do something fun!-- and I'll see you back here Monday morning at The Backstory Kitchen.
Amy Gail Hansen
is a novelist, professional public speaker and food blogger obsessed with exploring new culinary adventures while preserving kitchen traditions of the past. THE BACKSTORY KITCHEN provides the inside scoop on everything food, featuring reviews, food history anecdotes, original recipes and solutions to common problems in the kitchen.
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