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What Makes Milwaukee A Great Place for Coffee?

Romolo Tavani

August is national coffee month and to celebrate the occasion, Lake Effect will perk you up with coffee related stories, and bad puns, all month.

Over the past decade, Milwaukee’s coffee culture has expanded and deepened. From old favorites like Colectivo, Stone Creek, and Anodyne, to new kids on the block like Valentine, Kickapoo and Alderaan; coffee and the shops that sell it have become an essential part of who we are.

That's especially true for TJ Sizemore. Sizemore takes his coffee seriously. The coffee aficionado is the founder of the annual Milwaukee Coffee Festival and also runs the online resource, Pendulum Coffee.

Sizemore kicked off our "Perking Up Milwaukee" series with an overview of why the city has become such a vibrant coffee town. To start, Sizemore explains it all comes down to supply and demand.

"A city needs to have some really good examples of successful coffee businesses, and Milwaukee is fortunate enough to have a handful," he says. "People are starting to see how a specialty coffee or a specialty cafe can be successful, and not just bring good coffee but become a sustainable business."

Since Stone Creek and Alterra (now Colectivo) Coffee were founded in 1993, local coffee shops have expanded to over a dozen companies in the Milwaukee area alone. But Sizemore believes the news is good for coffee drinkers and/or aspiring business owners - although we have many coffee shops in the city, "we're not saturated yet."

Sizemore believes that part of the success the Milwaukee coffee scene is enjoying comes from the importance of community and a "shop small mentality" that consumers and coffee companies uphold.

"We’re starting to understand that we can make a bigger impact by shopping at say, Fiddleheads Coffee Shop rather than going to the Starbucks down the street.," he explains. "We can really put our dollars into a place that’s going to drive our local economy better."

However, in order to sustain this continued growth, Sizemore encourages local companies to interact with and support one another.

"In order to us to continue to grow within the city, we need to become more comfortable with each other, to what we're learning from each other, and reinforcing each other in a more positive tone," he says.

Sizemore leads part of this effort through the Milwaukee Coffee Festival, which will take place on on November 5th at the Urban Ecology Center this year. Each year he brings both large and small coffee companies and roasters together to visit and learn from one another and also introduce themselves to the Milwaukee community.

So whether it is through visiting different coffee shops or trying new ways to make that perfect cup of coffee at home, Sizemore wants everyone to embrace the industry's differences and potential.

"Coffee is an adventure, and we want to encourage that adventurous spirit," he says. "And we're finding that people want to come along the ride with us."

Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.