The Learning Lab’s Mission is to be an educational resource for hospitality workers and anyone who enjoys a quality beverage, empowering them with both professional development and casual engagement opportunities to learn more about the world of specialty beverages.

We are a platform for food and beverage professionals to engage more deeply with their work, learning valuable sensory and preparation skills that will equip them to stay in the industry and thrive.


Hospitality workers are suffering. Underpaid, undervalued and overworked, they are leaving the industry in droves. But what if their skills weren’t only valued but invested in? What if they were empowered with professional development and engagement opportunities that elevated both their confidence and their pay grade? Higher Grounds Coffee Learning Lab is a platform for food and beverage professionals, within our company and beyond, to engage more deeply with their work, learning valuable sensory and preparation skills that will equip them to stay in the industry and thrive.


Higher Grounds is a 20-year-strong business focused on trading fairly and strengthening our local and global communities. We’re expanding into a second cafe location (NoBo Mrkt, also a bar, market, and food hall) and this Learning Lab as part of Commongrounds, a real estate cooperative–the first of its kind in MI–owned entirely by business & non-profit tenants and community members. Higher Grounds' mission to confront inequality and cultivate human potential. We also happen to roast and sell coffee. This project is an opportunity for us to use specialty beverages as the means to tackle the growing challenges faced by hospitality workers and cultivate the vast potential of hospitality to be a force for good.

Our area of Northern Michigan is a tourist hotbed, well known for craft breweries, wineries, and restaurants. Yet we do not have a centralized industry-rated resource where workers can further their education without traveling very far. These workers are struggling to earn enough to live here, even while our thirsty tourists and foodie locals alike value high-end, farm-to-table, curated food and beverage experiences. We need our hospitality workforce to stick around and thrive within the businesses whose success fuels our local economies.

We’ll build the best beverage program in our region by cross-training bartenders, baristas, and servers to the top standards of specialty coffee, tea, wine, spirits, and beer–any and all craft specialty beverages–with ongoing development offered to our staff and to other workers in our region. NoBo Mrkt's GM Jerome Smith, a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators, has a wealth of experience across the hospitality industry, and our lead coffee trainer is a 20-year veteran of specialty coffee, Q Grader and Authorized Specialty Coffee Association Trainer. 


In addition to showcasing our area’s exceptional craft beverages, our courses include a lens of environmental and social responsibility. We’ll explore production processes, understanding sustainability and carbon-smart agriculture as they relate to the relevant supply chains. (The coffee importer co-owned by Higher Grounds, Cooperative Coffees, won the SCA Sustainable Business Award in 2020 and our Carbon, Coffee, and Climate initiative is working to create a more regenerative coffee industry.) Further, we’ll teach best practices for setting up and managing sustainable retail spaces, from simple things like utilizing reusable vessels for tasting to composting and zero-waste systems.

By creating the beverage education program our region needs, we hope to pave the way to a sustainable livelihood for the people we rely on for high quality culinary experiences. We need to lower barriers for hospitality innovators working towards a healthier, more connected community. Ultimately, we’re investing in the sustainability and wellbeing of the people who make our world a delicious place to be.