GQ ranks Alterra as top 10 coffee shop in nation

Photo by Gabe SanchezMilwaukee’s Alterra Coffee was recently rated by GQ Magazine as one of the top 10 coffee spots in the country, but Milwaukeeans seem to be remaining humble about the praise.

Kayleigh Abresch, an employee at Alterra at the Lake, 1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive, said few people have mentioned the article. The morning regulars are among the few who have noticed the media attention. Overall, Abresch said not much has changed. The same number of customers are coming in for coffee and business has remained steady.

What a surprise that talk is hushed, especially because GQ had such great things to say. The article stated, “The creamy, almost viscous espresso at Alterra (started by three local guys back in the dark ages of coffee — the mid-’90s) could very well herald the day Milwaukee is known for a beverage other than beer.”

Alterra thoroughly deserved the reward for its unique café concept and fierce coffee.

Walk into any Alterra café and you know where you are — the design is distinct. Warm colors accent menu boards and décor. Comfortable wooden chairs and ample table space make it an easy place to stay and sip your drink. The funky, friendly staff, dressed in black T-shirts, is the farthest from conceited and happy to help you.

The coffee is as advertised: strong and balanced. As a person with a poor palate for coffee, I found this joe distinct from others. It is smoother and cleaner tasting than commodity coffees and leaves no remnants of the overwhelmingly bitter taste most coffees do.

Among other companies highlighted were Ninth Street Espresso in New York City and Intelligentsia in Chicago and Los Angeles. West coast joints were the most common on the list.

Alterra has 10 locations throughout the Milwaukee Metropolitan area, including three kiosks in General Mitchell International Airport. Each location sells Alterra Baking Company pastries, which are also produced locally.

Although Milwaukee may not be basking in the national media’s limelight, rest assured. The city is quite aware of its urban java gem.

Dao Chang is a barista at the Mitchell Airport locations. She has not heard much talk from travelers, local or not, about the honor. Rather, she said people have steadfastly praised the coffee over the three years she has served Alterra products.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people that Alterra has the best coffee,” Chang said.

Alterra sells 40 percent fair trade/organic coffees from around the world. The beans come from Mexico, Costa Rica, other areas of Latin America, South America and Africa. Both blends and single-origin varieties are available. Alterra also offers the opportunity to watch coffee bean roasting at the company’s latest location in Riverwest, 2999 N. Humboldt Blvd.

In an e-mail, Ramie Camarena, projects and communications coordinator for Alterra, said media outlets such as, Outpost Exchange Magazine blog and A.V. Club have picked up on the recognition as well.

“Everyone here at Alterra was very excited and honored by the mention and we have received a lot of great feedback from customers and our community partners,” Camarena said.

Camarena said Alterra’s Web site received 180 “click-throughs” from as of Nov. 2. The Alterra fan page on Facebook also saw a reaction to the news.

Fans shared common sentiments, like “best coffee ever,” and a few lamented that they no longer live near Alterra Cafés. One man even said Alterra was the reason he remained living in Milwaukee.

For those who crave the coffee but are not in Milwaukee, Alterra has an online store, which offers the famous coffee, as well as teas, by the pound. The site also offers coffee-of-the-month subscriptions, where one can choose from regular, decaf or fair trade deliveries in six or 12-month installments.

Once in a while, Alterra sells limited edition coffees from special farms or growing regions. Last month, it offered two “micro-lot” coffees from the Cooperativa Capucas in Central Honduras. The popularity of the special brews is evident — they are already sold out.

Before graduation, make sure you’ve stepped off campus to try this noteworthy option. Do yourself a favor and try it sooner rather than later—or you might find yourself blitzed on caffeine, trying to take in as much of this treat as you can before you bid Milwaukee adieu.