Quick Cafe Review: Mars Cafe in Des Moines, IA

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Mars Cafe Des Moines 1

Over the weekend I had a conference in Minneapolis to attend and, sadly, the 6 hour drive is better than the hassle of a 1.25 hour flight, so drive I did! As luck would have it, my return trip took me right through the urban core of Des Moines and one of the locals’ favorite cafe’s, Mars Cafe, is just a minute or two off the interstate. I had to make a quick stop because whenever I’m in Des Moines I’m there to hang out with family, not explore the local coffee scene, so this was perfect timing. Mars Cafe has two locations in Des Moines, one by Drake University (where I went) and the other in the hip East Village neighborhood. Mars exclusively sells Kickapoo Coffee and I was tempted to take a couple bags home with me, but my usual queue of coffee was already waiting at home, so I resisted the urge! I ended up at the cafe right around noon on a Sunday and the place was about 4/5 full with lots of conversation going on. The cafe has high ceilings and bright colors, big windows and lots of seating spread out over the concrete floor. It was a mix of homey-industrial and it looked like a comfy place to have coffee and hang out.

Mars Cafe Des Moines 2

After approaching the bar and asking what they were pulling for espresso, the gal behind the counter gave me a bit of an eyeroll and a shrug. Luckily I was overheard by a heavily-tattooed gent who seemed to be a manager/lead barista and for good reason. He was super friendly and knowledgeable and he took over. I’ve about had it with poor customer service from surly, grumpy women behind coffee bars and I don’t think that knowing what you’re pulling for espresso is too much to ask. Let’s pull it together, ladies. LOL Anyway, I was inspired by a recent Cat & Cloud episode to forego my usual combo of espresso and a cortado for what they coined as a “1 and 1” which is a shot of espresso and a macchiato. Living on the edge, I tell ya!


This was my first exposure to Kickapoo coffee and I really hope it’s not my last. The espresso they were using on Sunday AM was Kickapoo’s Espresso Fuerte, which is “Roasted in the classic Southern Italian style, dark and resonant, ideal with milk.” Kickapoo’s tasting notes read, “dark chocolate, toffee and marzipan.” This is my preferred style of espresso. To be clear, I’ve never kicked any espresso out of bed, but given a choice between a super bright West Coast enamel stripper and a chocolatey, caramely, more traditional style espresso, I lean toward traditional every time. I guess spending my formative years in Italy and drinking that style of E for the better part of 20 years has biased me, but I do enjoy bright espressos, too.

Mars Cafe Espresso

I was served my espresso shot first and it looked like a nice, relatively short pull with a thick and dark crema. I got notes of dark artisanal chocolate as well as some plum and raisins from the espresso. It was thick and the flavors were dark and brooding and I loved it. Exactly what I wanted that morning. The macchiato had a bit of latte art on the top, which is impressive in a 2-oz pour, and it was also excellent. It had some of the same dark chocolate notes as the straight espresso, but it was dripping with caramel. SOOOOOOO caramelly! I liked the espresso, I loved the macchiato. Man, it was awesome! The barista did a fantastic job!

Mars Cafe Macchiato

My experience at Mars Cafe was great. The excellent service from the barista and his artful treatment of my 1&1 more than made up for a little grumpy service from another employee and I would be happy to go back anytime! Kickapoo is being well-represented by this gang in Des Moines.