The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is home to the Lakota Indians. The Lakota have a storied history. They are plains Indians famous for their Buffalo hunts and for their victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn. That story had a sad ending with the Massacre at Wounded Knee, the location of which is on the reservation. Pine Ridge consistently ranks as one of the poorest communities in the United States. This is not the kind of place you would expect to find a first rate coffee shop. But you can find one at Higher Ground Coffee House.
Owned and operated by Belva Thunder Hawk Matthews, of the Oglala Sioux, Higher Ground has been serving the community of Pine Ridge since May 2005.
Formerly a parsonage, the building had become quite dilapidated when Belva and her husband Leon took possession of it. With financial donations from members of their church, the Gospel Fellowship Church, and lots of volunteers they renovated the property and implemented her dream: to create a place where meaningful conversations about life and faith could occur. The place is warm and cozy with plush sofas, photos of the local community, bulletin boards announcing local events, and coffee themed décor.
On the menu, there is a variety of coffee blends — Lakota, RattleSnake, Dakota Roast, and Kenyaa — as well as a bevy of espresso drinks and teas. If you are not in the mood for a hot drink, they also have frappes.
I am not a coffee drinker, so I’ll have to relay my companions’ preferences. Of all the drinks, the clear favorite was the Turtle Mocha: espresso with steamed milk, chocolate and caramel sauces, and a bit of vanilla. This had just the right amount of sweetness, complementing the strong coffee. For myself, I choose the Mexican hot chocolate. This was a good drink, also not too sweet, but it could have been more spicy.
Higher grounds also has breakfast and lunch menus and baked good available all day. All day, that is, until they run out. The items on the menu change weekly. We were never there during meal time, but were able to try the baked goods. I had a chocolate chip cookie, generously sized and very tasty. A companion had the blueberry muffin and gave it high praise. She described it as delicious, noting that it was chock full of nuts and blueberries. A hearty meal.
I can see why Higher Grounds has lasted for14 years. They have great drinks and great food and is filled with a warm, inviting atmosphere. They were always busy while we were there. A constant stream of people were coming in and ordering food. This place is simply a joy to go to.