An Afternoon on Mars

all photography by Elizabeth Brown unless noted otherwise

It's still rather cold here in Iowa, but there are days when the temperature rises and the sun shines a little bit brighter than normal. On those days, I like to layer up and head downtown to my favorite local coffee shop. Take a look!

 Photo by Graham Gardner (follow him over on Instagram    @grahamgardner   or visit his website   grahamgardner.co   )

Photo by Graham Gardner (follow him over on Instagram @grahamgardner or visit his website grahamgardner.co)

Mars has two locations in Des Moines, but their coffee bar in the Village is my favorite. It’s much smaller than their other location near Drake, but something about its size is appealing to me. I think it reminds me of one of those West Coast coffee bars that I always see on Instagram - all sleek and minimal. Plus, it's never too crowded because there's only, like, six seats. 

I almost always order their signature drink - a honey and cinnamon latte dubbed the Sputnik. Sometimes I order it iced when it's the very middle of summer, but I usually opt for the hot version. It's always satisfactory, but it's especially good if Logan is the one who makes it for you

Technically speaking, I think this type of place is considered a "third wave" coffee shop, although I'm not entirely sure what that means. I think it means they take into account all aspects of the coffee's creation - from beans, to roaster, and even the machines they use. Their dedication shows and some of the best cups of coffee I've ever had have been here at Mars.

And while their coffee is good, I'd go as far as to say that the people serving it are even better. Once while jotting down some notes before a meeting, I overheard a barista talking to a homeless man about his day. They seemed to be on a first name basis  and the fact that her hospitality was extended to everyone who dropped by made me an even more loyal patron.  Kindness wins us all over in the end, right?

Recently a friend visiting from D.C. commented on how coffee culture hasn’t quite come to Des Moines and after visiting a few major U.S. cities, I’d have to agree with her. There’s good coffee here, but there’s also lot of room for growth and exploration.

I see places like Blue Bottle and Barista Parlor and how both have become Mecca for coffee (and Instagram) enthusiasts.  There are even cities closer by that are experimenting with their menu in unexpected ways.  Take Second Best in Kansas City: they have guest roasters every month of the year and have featured a wide plethora of national roasters including Portland's Coava and Cafe Grumpy out of Brooklyn.  

All that being said, I think Mars is leading the way in bringing more of a "coffee culture" to the City.  They've hosted a few public cupping events and in a world where lattes are sometimes just super heavy cappuccinos, they always make it with just the right amount of milk and foam. No small thing! It's little details like their menu being hand-drawn (see above) that may seem unimportant, but that help to create a culture of excellence that I really admire about them. The City is full of trailblazers and pioneers and Mars fits into the niche quite nicely. 

p.s. they need to open a a satellite location in Ankeny like, yesterday. In my opinion, the best location for it would be next door to Fong's (which is also very close to DMACC's local campus.) I'd never go to Starbucks again if they opened one here. Fingers crossed.