Local Coffee and Tea for the Perfect Cup
by Tim Froberg
In the 1990s blockbuster sitcom “Friends,” six young New Yorkers hung out at Central Perk where they sipped coffee out of giant cups and dealt with everyday problems.
Cast members of “Friends” said their final farewells in 2004, but the real-life Central Perks were just getting started. Coffee and tea shops have capitalized on an industry that, much like the beer business, has evolved into something far beyond the basic brew, producing drinks more complex and flavorful.
Roughly 65% of Americans consume some type of coffee drink daily. With the average cup of coffee containing 95 milligrams of caffeine, coffee is our best friend in the morning and a wake-up ritual that does its best to chase away the grumpy persona that lurks in most of us.
Legend has it that coffee was originally discovered in Ethiopia around 850 CE by a goat herder named Kaldi, who noticed that his goats would get more energized after eating red cherries from the coffee plant. Coffee was brought to America by Captain John Smith in the 1600s and gradually became a part of our world. The industry was revolutionized with the creation of Starbucks in 1971, which introduced a new style of roasting coffee beans along with different flavors and styles of coffee and tea drinks.
And just like that, we had more choices than a simple “cup of Joe.” We had espressos, cappuccinos, frappes, lattes, mochas — you name it — and cool places to gather with friends or catch up with work on our laptops. Today, coffee is a billion-dollar industry. Like most progressive areas, the Fox Cities is loaded with wonderful coffee and tea shops and cafes where Ross, Phoebe, Joey, Rachel, Chandler, and Monica would feel right at home.
Here’s a look at what’s brewing at some of our local coffee and tea outlets. We’ll check out old reliables like Copper Rock, ACOCA, and Seth’s along with newbies like Fika Tea Bar, which gets its unusual name from the Swedish culture.
“People in Sweden take a Fika break where they step away from their worries during the day and have coffee or tea with a sweet treat,” said Fika owner Colleen Bies.
Seth’s Coffee & Bake Shop
106 E Main St., Little Chute, 920-687-6551
Seth Lenz opened his coffee shop in Appleton in 2009 before moving to an expanded location in Little Chute in 2015. Seth’s has its own bake shop that cranks out a variety of tasty treats — all made in-house and from scratch — including muffins, scones, and quiche. Seth’s specializes in pour-over coffee — a style of making a single cup of coffee by hand — which brings out the bean’s subtle nuances.
500 W. College Ave., Appleton, 920-993-1458
ACOCA’s slogan is “it’s about the coffee,” and you don’t stay in business for nearly 25 years without producing a mean cup of java. ACOCA is owned by Kim and Bill Wetzel and is Appleton’s longest-running coffee roaster, opening in 1997. All coffee beans are roasted in-house and in small batches, providing customers with the freshest brews. Most of the beans are organic and all coffee drinks are brewed to order. Check out ACOCA’s impressive breakfast and lunch menu that features breakfast burritos, soups, waffles, bagel sandwiches, and vegetarian choices.
Kaukauna Coffee and Tea
127 W Wisconsin Ave., 920-766-4038
Kaukauna Coffee and Tea features Colectivo coffee — a Milwaukee-based specialty coffee roaster — and has gained a strong following in K-Town. Hot and cold drinks like mochas, hot chocolates, cappuccinos, and iced mocha frappes are big hits. An expansive lunch menu is available with some great sandwiches, soups, wraps, paninis, and gluten-free options. This cozy café also offers a large outdoor deck overlooking the Fox River.
“We offer a cheerful, family-friendly atmosphere and are known for our lunch menus along with a wide variety of beverages,” said Kaukauna Coffee and Tea owner Alison Zimmerman.
107 E College Ave., Appleton, 920-882-9336
Brewed Awakenings features Ancora coffee and specialty drinks along with fresh bakery items and a breakfast and lunch menu. Try the lavender vanilla iced chai drink with a CBD shot, or an autumn drink like the fall harvest White Zombie. The café is dog-friendly and more than willing to provide water dishes to keep Fido hydrated.
Copper Rock Coffee Co.
210 W College Ave., Appleton, 920-882-9462
Copper Rock — which opened its doors in 2003 — might be the best-known coffee shop in the Fox Cities. With its brick interior, high ceilings, and ample seating, Copper Rock is a perfect place to share a hot brew with friends, or get some work done on your laptop while sipping an espresso, frappe, or chai tea.
“Copper Rock has always prided itself on an outstanding customer experience, quality products, and a fun atmosphere to both work and visit,” said Copper Rock operations manager Ben Jaeger.
Copper Rock roasts its own coffee at its downtown Appleton location and won’t let you go home hungry. Sandwiches, paninis, soups, salads, muffins, scones, and other locally-sourced bakery items highlight their food menu.
Uncommon Grounds Specialty Roaster, Mudd Creek, LLC & Bake House
958 S Westland Dr., Appleton, 920-540-2711 for UG, 920-419-0412 for Mudd Creek
Uncommon Grounds is a wholesale coffee roaster that sells its beans to grocery stories like Festival Foods and Woodman’s along with Jacobs Meat Market and area cafes. Uncommon Grounds used to have its own coffee shop at its Westland Drive location, but now shares the building with Mudd Creek Bakehouse, a coffee café operated by Donna and Ken Klausen.
Uncommon Grounds owner Dan Gould is a coffee expert and aficionado who is known as “Dan The Coffee Man.”
“I try and roast to bring out the best of what part of the world it came from,” said Gould. “Central America is a different part of the world than Africa or Sumatra, so we try and bring out those unique flavors.”
Mudd Creek offers some awesome gluten-free baked goods and desserts prepared by its expert baker, Donna Klausen. Try the granola Swedish loaf topped with raspberry filling, or the pineapple upside down doughnuts. Match that with quality coffee drinks roasted in-house and it’s a winning combination.
330 N Commercial St., Neenah, 920-886-3694
Shellatés opened in 2011 and offers a friendly atmosphere, great coffee and tea drinks, and a full menu that can provide a tasty snack or a full meal. Shellatés roasts PT’s coffee beans and is also known for its exceptional chai tea.
“We put a lot of love in our coffee,” said owner Shelly Baeten. “We’re proud of our food offerings and offer a nice comfortable space to socialize with family and friends.”
206 N Pearl St., New London, 920-982-4332
Familiar Grounds is a happening place where you can get more than just a great cup of coffee. Since purchasing Familiar Grounds in 2018, owners Chris and Jennifer Heideman have replaced the gift shop with an entertainment concept focusing on community events like Open Mic, Family Game Day, Cars & Coffee Trivia Night, and live music offerings.
“We love being a part of the community,” said Jennifer Heideman. “Being able to offer quality food, drinks, and a place with fun, family-friendly events is why we love what we do.”
Wonderstate Coffee — an award-winning Wisconsin-based organic roaster — is Familiar Grounds’ coffee bean provider. An impressive soup and sandwich menu is also available. Try the Cranberry Walnut Chicken Salad or the Savory Ham & Swiss sandwiches.
Alley Cat Coffeehouse
213 W Main St., Hortonville, 920-540-8384
Owners Grace Abitz and Jane Jarvis opened the business in 2017 following an extensive renovation, and Alley Cat has become a prominent part of Hortonville’s downtown business community. Alley Cat is a specialty coffee shop known for its exceptional expresso, welcoming atmosphere, and a manual brew bar. Alley Cat brews Colectivo coffee and offers a strong lunch menu with scratch bakery and bread. Smoothies, bagel sandwiches, and scratch take-and-bake pizzas are among the new items offered. Cool your jets during the summer with the house-made basil lemonade.
Fika Tea Bar
207 W College Ave., Appleton, 920-939-3030
Remember in “Forrest Gump” how Forrest’s buddy, Bubba, was all about shrimp? Well, Fika has a similar obsession with tea. It serves 50 different types of tea and specializes in boba tea, which combines a tea base with a milk or fruit flavoring and is poured over dark tapioca pearls.
“When you think of a latte, you think of espresso and milk,“ said owner Colleen Bies. “It’s really the same thing with boba tea, only it’s tea and milk.” If you insist on a cup of Joe, Fika has that too along with all its coffee cousins and wonderful baked goodies and desserts.
124 W Wisconsin Ave., Suite 165, Neenah, 920-486-3057
Lawlss opened in Neenah during September of 2020 in the building that previously housed the Timshel Café. It has a breakfast and lunch menu, and brews beans from Onyx Coffee Lab in Arkansas and Isely Coffee Roasters in Ephraim.
Lawlss, which has a second location in Sturgeon Bay, also sells bags of its roasted coffee such as its Ethiopia Kewa and Los Cuxinales, Guatemala. Customer drink favorites include the Carmello, a caramel espresso with browned butter and cardamom bitters, and the Smoked Mocha, a dark chocolate espresso with smoked sea salt.
Lawlyss’ theme is creative coffee, expertly prepared.
“Lawlss focuses on controlling what we can do to create the tastiest coffee and coffee beverages,” said Lawlss manager Antone Crowe. “We make our own sauces, tinctures, and syrups. Creating something new often requires an open mind and an open palate. Lawless balances industry standards while gently nudging the public to try unfamiliar combinations.”
Additional Area Coffee- Tea Shops
All Seasons Coffeehouse
1390 Popp Ln. Appleton, 920-427-3855
Tempest Coffee Collective
181 S Riverheath Way, Suite 1100, Appleton, 920-939-2153
N4083 City Rd. E, Suite A, Freedom, 920-423-3943
Koi Coffee and Tea
204 Main St., Menasha, 920-486-7022
New Moon Café
401 N Main St., Oshkosh, 920-232-0976
Urban Fuel & Co.
N7645 N Peebles Ln., Suite 3, Fond du Lac, 920-933-5590
The River Coffee and Cream
104 High St., Wrightstown, 920-532-8044