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Review: Bay City’s Populace Coffee

Over the past several months, I have decided to become a regular at Populace Coffee in Bay City. This has proved to be one of the best decisions I have made in a long time.

I would say that this decision has been more unconscious than deliberate. It started with one visit there with an old high school friend, then a study date with my partner the following week, and before I knew it I had slowly fallen in love with this charming little place.

What has fueled my endless returns to this coffee shop? As a coffee lover, I have visited countless coffee shops throughout my life, however have never made as many consequent returns to one single place as I have to Populace.

It could (perhaps more than likely) trace back to my admittedly overwhelming caffeine addiction. However, I like to think it’s something a little bit more than that.

First of all, I have to talk about the coffee.

If a coffee house doesn’t have good coffee, then I can’t really label it as the best coffee shop in Bay City, can I?

Despite being an avid coffee lover, I have always struggled to find the “right” coffee. If you’re a coffee enthusiast like me, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

In my vision of a perfect latte, the espresso has to have a minimal amount of bitterness and acidity, and the milk foam has to be towering high. Most importantly perhaps, the espresso must be brewed light enough to make sure not to leave me with an upset stomach.

The lattes from Populace coffee are all of these things and more. They have something to fit everyone’s taste. They are masters when it comes to making the simple classics, like cappuccinos and lattes.

However, some of my favorites are found on their unique seasonal menus. These drinks change with the ushering in of different seasons and holidays, and feature Populace’s divine flavored syrups.

My current favorite from their winter menu is the s’more latte, which features their house-made chocolate ganache and house-made marshmallow syrup.

They also have drinks for non-coffee lovers, including fresh-pressed juices, matcha, and tea lattes.

Not only do they have incredible coffee, but their freshly baked bagels are absolutely to-die-for. Before I started frequenting Populace, I was under the impression that a bagel was just a bagel.

My personal favorite is the rosemary sea salt bagel (which, yes, is just as good as it sounds) with their veggie cream cheese which is packed with bits of fresh carrots and celery. It is the perfect savory treat to accompany my favorite latte.

Next reason I love Populace is the aesthetic of the space.

One of my favorite aspects of the space: they have a yellow couch. Enough said. Yes, you know which kind I’m talking about. The ones that litter your Pinterest feeds and mood boards, and make you feel like an indie artist living in a penthouse in New York City or Los Angeles. The amount of serotonin this yellow couch gives me is honestly ridiculous.

Call me crazy, but sitting on that couch working on editing projects or completing readings for my Shakespeare class, I feel like the main character out of one of those cutesy romantic novels I always manage to find at Barnes and Noble with the minimalist artwork and brush-painted calligraphic writing fonts scattered across the cover.

Overall, I would describe the design as an uplifting, minimalist, chic sort of style. The huge front windows facing the street outside let lots of natural light into the room, and the dominating colors of the space are crisp white and cheerful yellow.

If you get a chance to stop in, don’t forget to glance up at the ornate, yet minimal, white ceiling tiles, each etched with a swirly, intricate design.

I’m not sure if it’s the color or décor of the space (probably a mix of both), but my spirits are always lifted when I walk in their front door, even on gloomy January days.

As much as I love Populace in the summertime, I find that it is also a great place for chasing away the winter blues.

There are lots of seating spaces to accommodate groups of various sizes, despite the relatively small space of the café.

The seating areas are spaced far enough apart from one another that I feel comfortable while taking my mask off to eat and drink, even during these frightening pandemic times.

A beautiful mural of flowers can be found decorating the wall, alongside an expanse of grass wall (right behind that glorious yellow couch), both of which allow the natural world outside to spill along the walls and create a space that feels harmonious with nature.

This goes hand-in-hand with Populace Coffee’s dedication to preserving the natural world and environment. Their sense of duty towards sustainability is unlike any I’ve seen at other businesses (I’ve even seen them using compostable garbage bags), and is the reason I will continue coming back to this place again and again.

Unlike fast food coffee places like Starbucks, where your name and order is immediately written on a plastic cup, Populace asks right away if your order is “for here” or “to-go,” so that they can eliminate waste of single-use cups wherever they can.

Even if I do need a disposable cup, I don’t feel guilty getting one at Populace since theirs are all made out of that compostable plastic and cardboard that I wish all fast food joints would get onboard with.

All of this being said, the main reason I continue to come back to Populace is the friendly community that they have created in this space.

Each and every time I walk in, I am greeted by the kindest baristas who are always happy to give me recommendations. I can’t thank them enough for their endless patience regarding my indecisiveness when trying to choose a new drink with a scrumptious-sounding name.

I have been to many coffee shops in the past where the baristas are just plain snobby and act like they don’t want me to be there.

Populace is the complete opposite of this, and I always feel welcomed by the aroma of delicious coffee, the uplifting atmosphere, the bright light filling the room, and the cheerful smiles of the baristas.

Populace Coffee is, without a doubt, the best coffee shop in Bay City. If you’re in the area, stopping in for a visit is not an option, but a must.

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