Grand Rapids’ first death café offers a safe space for grim conversations

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The Mortals menu includes standard espresso and lattes, along with batch-brew coffee from local Little Foot Coffee Roasters. Courtesy The Mortals

A new type of café has been brought to life in downtown Grand Rapids.

The Mortals, situated in the back of Little Space Studio at 111 Division Ave. S, invites guests to enjoy internationally inspired coffee and confections while exploring an oftentimes uncomfortable topic typically avoided in most conversations: death.

Originating in London in 2011, death cafés are not seen as a physical place, but rather a community gathering for individuals to openly and comfortably discuss mortality over coffee in a space that is the first of its kind in Michigan.

“Familiarizing ourselves with death allows us to live a more fulfilled life,” said Abbey Hunter, owner of the Mortals. “On one hand, you have people who don’t accept death and live as though they will never actually die, and on the other hand, you have people who are so afraid of dying they never actually live. The more we talk about it, the more comfortable we can be with it and find a balance in living.”

The Mortals offers eccentric menu items to be savored while creating a space for the community to connect and explore the topic of death. Guests will find more familiar items including standard espresso and lattes, along with batch-brew coffee from local Little Foot Coffee Roasters. The café also features mortali-teas, herbal blends designed to aid certain areas and functions of the body.

The Mortals also seeks to put an emphasis on offering Phin Ca Phe, a potent alternative and more sustainable type of drip coffee poured over sweetened condensed milk.

Though found most typically at Vietnamese restaurants, Hunter wanted to bring this style of brewing to the cafe in an attempt to highlight the technique in coffee culture here in Grand Rapids. Phin Ca Phe is another avenue in which Hunter invites guests to take a comfortable venture from the norm by simply pausing and deliberating from a different perspective over a unique brew.

“It tastes so much like something, but you can’t quite place it,” she said. “It’s that thing that causes people to slow down and reflect.”

In an attempt to bridge misunderstanding and provide nourishment for those facing the dealings of death, the cafe also hosts a free monthly gathering called Cafe Mortel where guests can enjoy complimentary coffee and snacks over an open conversation about death and dying. Additional resources from finding a death doula to connections to palliative care, life insurance and more also can be found on the company website.

“I want people to feel comfortable and open to gather, or just be on their own,” Hunter said. “I want people to feel comfortable with all the little ways we tuck conversations about death; to talk about death safely … and maybe feel comfortable enough to take it home and talk to their spouse, kids or their parents.”

To learn more about The Mortals, visit themortalsgr.com.

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