Putting caffeine on the Mapp

The West Bank: Providing your coffee buzz for more than 30 years

Sunlight pours through the windows, drenching the honey-colored wood floors and warming the occupants of Mapps Coffee & Tea with its glow. The jewel-colored walls are resplendent with, what else, maps, and contribute to the earthy, global atmosphere of this West Bank gem. In the corner, a barista is busy concocting Mapps’ famous mocha for a patron jabbering excitedly in another language into his cell phone; Swedish supergroup ABBA sings “Mamma Mia” joyfully in the background while a soccer game plays on the muted TV; a young man is studying a book on Shakespeare; an older couple leafs through the paper, pausing to remark over a certain story, and sip contentedly from their coffee, enjoying the warm March Tuesday morning.

When traveling the West Bank in search of the ideal cup of coffee or tea for a midafternoon energizer, it is Mapps Coffee & Tea that delivers. The small but spacious café, owned by husband-and-wife team Erdoan and Yildiz Akguc, has more charm than the bustling Carlson Starbucks and more accessibility than the hipster-favorite Hard Times, and is situated in prime territory between the University and neighboring Augsburg. The faces at Mapps are friendly; the atmosphere perfect for studying and socializing; the baked goods delectable; and the Riverside location has its patrons sipping tea right in the heart of the diverse West Bank community.

Perhaps the friendliest face belongs to Erdoan Akguc, the welcoming Turkish owner of Mapps who immigrated to the United States at the age of 10 – “A long, long time ago,” he laughs. Young Akguc spent some time at the University studying engineering before opening a grocery store in the Seven Corners neighborhood. The store was open for eight years before it closed, and the current Riverside location of Mapps was once the enterprising Akguc’s video store. Mapps has definitely proven to be more flourishing than the video business and has been serving coffee and tea products from around the globe for four years in its West Bank location. The Akguc’s have been so successful with their sunny café that they’ve opened a second Mapps location in Midtown’s Global Market.

“This is a very casual environment for students,” says the tall and soft-spoken Akguc, who is often behind the counter of his café serving up drinks. “We have high-speed Internet, good music, good coffee, homemade chai.”

“I like how personable the baristas are,” says sophomore and coffee fiend Brett Benfield, who likes to stop in to Mapps for a pick-me-up while working at Regis Center for the Arts’ photo crib. “They make you feel like a valued customer, and the atmosphere makes me feel warm and at home, unlike other coffee shops that feel stale and cold.”

This comparison could be drawn between independently owned Mapps and the Starbucks situated cozily in the Carlson School of Management. Starbucks opens at the crack of dawn and gives Carlson’s up-and-coming business professionals their caffeine fix at all hours of the day, but the immensely popular chain’s constant hustle and bustle lacks the pleasant, homey charm of its Riverside neighbors, where you can get conversation alongside your mocha. At Mapps, it’s easy to pull up a chair and wile away the afternoon with fellow devotees who come from far and wide to enjoy the Akguc’s delicious beverages and made-from-scratch treats. The Akgucs embrace their community, exhibiting local art and photography and encouraging orchestra students to entertain their clientele.

Another popular local caffeinator in the vein of Mapps is the much-talked-about Hard Times Café, which has emerged from some recent troubles to continue offering its famous one-dollar coffee, vegan and vegetarian menu and piercing punk rock playlist to patrons as it has done for more than 15 years. (They celebrated their 15th anniversary on Nov. 17, 2007.) Hard Times stays open nearly all night long, often until 4 a.m., so whenever you’ve got a hankering for strong coffee and a cheap vegetarian meal, this worker-owned and operated café across the street from Mapps is the ticket. Hard Times is frequented by a kaleidoscope of characters who praise its “well-priced and tasty” menu with its “multitude of options” and love its unkempt, chaotic Bohemian atmosphere.

So the next time you find yourself desperate for espresso while crossing the Mississippi River, don’t fret. No matter your coffee-related quandary, the cafes and coffee shops on the West Bank have got you covered … and caffeinated.