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Back of House: Strange Matter owner Cara Nader

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Strange Matter Coffee continues to win over Lansing. Since the specialty coffee shop expanded its Michigan Avenue location to a much larger space right across the street, it has added made-fromscratch doughnuts and pastries to its repertoire.

Featuring unorthodox toppings and glazes — hello Oreo and lemon lavender — the quirky baked goods make excellent companions to Strange Matter’s much lauded coffee. Owner Cara Nader spoke with City Pulse by phone about brewing coffee and how she managed to throw doughnuts into the mix.

When did you decide to start making your own doughnuts from scratch?

I have always been interested in cooking and baking. I have worked in commercial kitchens and bakeries in the past.

I really wanted to have the best pastries in the area. We used to carry Zingerman’s Pastries, which, in my opinion, are pretty much the best in the state. But they stopped delivering to us daily because Ann Arbor to Lansing is kind of a trek. So we had to come up with a different plan.

I spent about a year and a half working on testing and developing recipes. I was also frustrated with a lot of the bakeries in the area because they use buckets of glazes and buckets of fillings or premixed doughnut batters.

I really like to know what I’m eating and I assume that other people do too. I really wanted to make sure that we were making old-school, traditional donuts that have ingredients you can pronounce; that don’t have any additives and are also made with high quality ingredients.

What makes pour over coffee special?

The basic idea is that you’re brewing a cup to order, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. It involves understanding the science of extraction and the science of all of the variables that go into brewing a cup of coffee.

So instead of just pouring hot water on coffee grounds, the baristas at Strange Matter understand the nuance of extraction and how to really get the best quality out of the cup that the farmer has produced; that the roaster has roasted and hopefully highlighted the farmers’ work.

At the very end, we’re trying to take all of that into consideration — all the work that everyone’s put into this and trying to really get the best out of that by controlling and understanding how variables affect the coffee brewing process, such as time, temperature, weight ratios of coffee to water — things like that.

You make your own syrups in-house. Is that uncommon? How are they made?

There’s a lot of coffee shops in the state of Michigan — and when I say a lot, I mean like maybe 10 that I can think of off the top of my head — that have a similar focus that we do, in terms of the properties of extraction and science and how all of that works, as well as the higher quality ingredients that we’re using.

We don’t just want to give people a sugary beverage to go out the door. We really want to be proud of the quality of the things that we’re serving and highlight the quality of our coffee. So we make all of our syrups in-house.

To make a syrup or sauce, or any specialty drink, from scratch is not that challenging — as long as you have a base understanding of cooking. Most syrups are made from a simple syrup base, which is equal parts water and sugar. Then you work on how you want to get the flavor of whatever you’re trying to produce. We use an induction cooktop sometimes to simmers things, like when we make our pumpkin sauce in the fall — that’s a pretty multistep process. But we always try to use fresh spices to really bring out the flavor.

Tell us about your current roster of roasters. Why did you choose them?

We try to rotate roasters frequently — that doesn’t happen as much as I think we’d like. The thing we look for with roasters is that they care about their staff and care about their community in the same way we do. They’re not just out to make a buck and sell a bunch of coffee. They care about the farms that are producing their coffee and making sure that they’re sourcing from small farms and building relationships with those farmers.

That’s something that we really try to work on, making sure that the whole coffee chain is sustainable and not just my coffee shop. It doesn’t really do me any good if the farmers aren’t earning sustainable wages and things like that on their end.

And then in addition to looking for things that are just kind of community-based and things like that, we also look at quality. We cup coffees; we taste them blind. That’s really important to us as well.

Photos used for this story, including the print edition, were taken by Debbie Carlos.


Strange Matter Eastside

2010 E Michigan Ave #103, Lansing Monday-Thursday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (517) 224-5496 Downtown 337 Washington Sq., Lansing Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday (517) 252-2666 strangemattercoffee.com

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