Boxcar, Boulder’s premier Specialty Coffee roaster, is officially open for business in Denver. They are located in the Taxi Development (Drive Building), and are featuring their unique full-immersion coffee brewing method, aka cowboy coffee, aka try-it-and-I-promise-you’ll-like-it method. The space is open and inviting, the espresso machine is gorgeous (built by Kees van der Westen), and the staff is super knowledgeable. They are open M-F 7-5, Sa-Su 8-1 (for now). You’ll be happy you stopped by.
Check this out–Marie Janiszewski, currently a barista at Happy Coffee, has launched a great coffee project called Public Coffee. It is about collaboration, it is about great coffee bringing great people together for conversation and education, in your neighborhood. If funded, the project will take the form of a mobile coffee trailer where bringing people together over great coffee in an outdoor setting is the focus. Unlike other trucks the coffee equipment will be on the ground level, so as a customer you can directly take part in how your coffee is made. Very hands-on, very exciting. You’ll definitely want to see this project through. Please invest in the project, give what you can. As of now, the project is half-way to being funded with only a week left. Tell everyone you know to invest whatever they can, and lets get this thing off the ground!
Check out the project’s details and get it funded here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/784335439/public-coffee
Pablos Coffee has been around since 1995. When they first opened, they set out on the right foot by trying to improve the quality of coffee in a quality-dead city. They’ve been at this for years, and over time Pablo’s has become a Denver landmark.
One of my favorite characteristics of the shop is that the space exists for community. I admire that the crew has taken the bold step of not offering WiFi. There’s nothing more frustrating than going into a shop with thirty tables all taken by 13″ MacBooks, each manned by one person working hard on Facebook posts…for hours, and Pablo’s is too busy to never have available seats. I love walking into a coffee shop and seeing people actually talking with other real people. Just gives me the warm tingly’s.
Here’s the thing about Pablo’s: its a place of nostalgia. Its where you go when you want to be treated well by personable baristas whose qwarkiness you secretly crave. Its a place where people know your name. When it comes to creating a homy, comfortable environment, Pablo’s does really well. What Pablo’s isn’t as good at however, is creating quality coffee beverages and educating customers about how the coffees feature best. I say this because of the hundreds of customer interactions I’ve observed over the years. I see very few interactions where a barista explains anything about the espresso being served, the origin of the coffee, the flavor of the coffee, how it features best, why its roasted the way it is, ect. When a barista sells a bag of beans it often seems like they don’t even care whether it is sold whole bean or ground-to-order…which to me is like asking, “Would you prefer me to completely ruin this coffee before you take it home?” They also offer a drink called a “large cappuccino” which doesn’t need to exist in any environment. I’ve gone in to the shop several times and asked for a cappuccino for-here, and they don’t seem to have the correct vessel for the drink…only 8, 12, 16oz cups. No 6oz cap? Really? And if there’s one thing that returns me to the grunge and grossness of the 80′s, its a rack of flavored syrups to put in lattes that stretches the entire counter. Sherbert-coconut-toasted marshmallow latte? yum. Syrups are for use in covering up the coffee and replacing it with sugary sweetness. It seems that they don’t really believe the coffees feature best as, well…coffee, that the coffee needs sugar to taste good. We wish that Pablo’s was a coffee-focused shop, but looking at the menu, the roast-profile, the lack of customer education, we see Pablo’s more as a friendly neighborhood cafe, than a coffee-focused shop.
Let’s talk about Pablo’s approach to roasting. Firstly, roasting coffee dark (which Pablos does almost always) happens for two reasons: to cover up defects in poor quality beans, or because of a taste preference. I’m sure that with the available coffee on the market 10 years ago, dark roasting wasn’t such a bad idea. However, coffee quality on a farm level has increased exponentially in the past 10 years. The specialty coffees available today do not necessarily need to be roasted dark to taste full of flavor…on the contrary–roasting quality beans darkly would only serve to eliminate natural flavor from the soil, resulting in a smokey, less-caffeinated bean with little life, and lots of bitterness. I’ve yet to see a barista back up their roasting ideals to a customer. This leads me to believe it must be a taste preference…which is understandable, being that we’re surrounded by corporate roasters who roast similarly.
There are many baristas at Pablos who have tried pushing the roasters to feature more light-roasted coffees, but I fear that the the ownership is a bit timid to change because they are worried they will scare off their well-built customer base. This though, would probably never happen given more education about the bean and roasting methodology. Its about being confident in your product and I just don’t feel like the staff sells what they love…they only sell what they are used to…what has worked for them in the past. To me, this is not about passion and quality, but perhaps about comfort, about money. As a whole here’s what we think: Do the baristas know how to prepare coffee and pull espresso? Yes. Do they know how to steam milk properly? Yes. Does the coffee taste good? No. I believe that given more concern for the coffees being sourced, more care into roasting, and more education, Pablos has the potential to be one of the top shops in Denver, but sadly we don’t feel that enough passion for coffee itself exists in this environment. And with the opening of the new store, we think opportunities were certainly lost to improve upon what they had originally created. I know I’m not the only one who was disappointed not to find any manual brew options, or single-origin espresso options available at the new store. Yet another lost opportunity to educate customers on coffee.
The shops do deserve a lot of credit. They do create a large neighborhood community gathering place that is needed in Cap Hill. They also have several baristas who care a lot about the coffee, baristas who have pushed for the betterment of the coffee for years. They also have the most up-to-date equipment possible, allowing the baristas more control over the coffee. Also, thanks for dropping the 16oz lattes at the new shop…no one needs that much milk! For these things we commend you, and hope that with the opening of the new store comes a new passion for education, improvement, and coffee-focused fun.
NOTE: Like always, the Denver Coffee Review is all about reviewing two things: coffee quality and barista knowledge. Ambiance and environmental characteristics are not part of any review. This review was done over the course of six months by more than five critics, baristas, and enthusiasts within and outside of the coffee industry, and was also written, compiled, and edited by Josh McNeilly.
Last night I had the pleasure of attending Black Eye Coffee’s opening party, which was indeed a lavish, friendly affair which most certainly made me want to come here for my morning coffee at least once per day. Black Eye is located next door to the Highland Tavern and will be featuring coffees from Boxcar, and perhaps others to follow. They have a killer espresso machine, great informative baristas, and an inspiring space. You’ll definitely want to pay them a visit. And while you’re in the blossoming highlands neighborhood, stop by Metropolis’s new location on Central and 17th next to the Ale House. They will be serving coffee’s from Seatlle’s Herkimer, pulled on a gorgeous Synesso machine, as well as hand-poured coffees. Their hours are 6:30-6 Mon-Thurs, Fri-sat til 8, 7:30-5 on Sunday (for now).
A Totally Unbiased Review of ink! Coffee.
Before we visited Riverfront Park’s ink!, we kicked off the day home-brew–style with an Intelligentsia coffee through the trusty Chemex. We kept it mild to keep our taste buds open, because our minds were not. We’d been tricked before by that super sexy logo, only to find the coffee couldn’t hold up to the design.
Narrative switch to second-person present tense. Dear reader, come to ink! with us.
You walk in the door. Sucker punch. Nasty ass smooth jazz. Night Court ( link to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86887s5DIXA) nasty. Bad enough in an elevator. God forbid you need to do some real work.
But you have an open mind. Remember. It’s SO open. You ask the cashier if they do any single-origin, pour-over, Chemex or Aero Press. She casts a confused look to the barista. He says they have a Peruvian in the espresso hopper. Oh really? Bring it!
Being a curious soul, you ask about the house espresso. Where’s it from? How’s it roasted? Answer… wait for it… wait for it… (they “won’t tell us”). You pick up a bag of the house espresso and low and behold, it’s from places. On a map (link to: http://www.inkcoffee.com/pdfs/beanguide.pdf). Like Africa and shit. Guess it’s hard to know what you don’t know. Barista’s choice on the menu board is listed as Italian Soda. High fructose corn syrup in soda water. Very. Bad. Sign. You sit down. Drink some… coffee and walk out super bummed. A side note: Its such a pet peeve of mine when a barista asks me if I want my espresso for-here or to-go. Always for here…no matter what. Espresso is always meant to be drank in ceramic/glass, within 3 minutes of its pull. I can already tell the shop doesn’t care about quality presentation. No tasty brews here. For a detail of our tasting notes, see below.
Boy. That was fun dear reader. Glad you came along for the ride? Here’s our take on the deal:
Cultivator, ink!’s ad agency and design studio gets an A for the brand. It’s fun. It’s engaging. The ink! puns work. Ninjas are cool. They killed it. Ink! doesn’t even get an F for their coffee. They’re held back a year and sequestered to the short bus. That’s ’cuz of their total lack of service, knowledge and expertise, which would have been tolerable if the coffee was decent, but honestly, we’ve had a better cup of coffee in Cultivator’s kitchen. True story.
Overall, ink! occurs to us like a Starbucks wannabe, which is confusing. In this day and age, if you invest in a roaster, super expensive retail rents and a quality ad agency, somewhere along the line someone had vision and a passion for coffee. That passion is not to be found in their cups. The only educated guess we’re willing to make is this: big ass Aspen money. Someone with funding was hoping to strike gold with a rad brand and crap coffee. Now, there’s nothing wrong with funding. But the ink! model? That’s been done. It’s a saturated market. Try getting behind something like Blue Bottle. They’ve got a line for days in a city that knows. If you feel the need to franchise a coffee shop, try founding your values on… dunno… something like… coffee, perhaps? And not the high margins of Italian sodas. Educate your customers on the holy trinity of grower, roaster and barista. Sorry ink!. You be a decade behind the old bell curve. Thumbs down and tongues out from us. But we’re sure your neighbors will appreciate yet another version of the franchises they love. We wish you nothing but the best in attempting marketing prowess by way of heart-shaped latte art and slogans (link to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latte_art).
|Peruvian espresso||Served in a 4-oz. cup even though they had proper espresso cups. Had crema. Caramely sweet, buttery mouthfeel. But a bad grind and very small pour.|
|House espresso-blend||No grinding of the beans per shot, the hopper was totally full of ground beans. Yikes. Dark chocolate, syrupy sweet, mild smokiness. Charcoal for days.|
|6610 coffee blend||Dark roast, super smokey. Nothing exciting about this blend except for the elevation it was roasted at-6610.|
|Cappuccino||No crema, definitely ‘capped’ with nasty milk foam. And the small is 12-oz. Unpalatable. Same notes as above, just more milk and a nose full of foam.|
|Cortado||Had crema on top, but no rich velvety milk or latte art.|
|Baristas||Friendly & excited about what they were serving. Not knowledgeable.|
2012 is the year for Denver’s great emergence in the national coffee scene, especially with the addition of some new shops, coming to your neighborhood soon! Here’s a quick look at what’s coming, and what’s already here:
Metropolis Coffee – 2nd location: 1661 Central St. (Highlands)
The first Metropolis can be credited as a definite forerunner of Specialty coffee in Denver. Their first location, a comfy spot in the Golden Triangle neighborhood, has been a staple for good baristas and great espresso drinks. I couldn’t imagine a better place to read. Their new location will feature the same great craftsmanship, along with some new options for brewed coffee, specifically more manually-brewed options. The highlands welcomes you. Expected opening date: Mid-July
Happy Coffee – 1 S. Broadway
Happy coffee was Denver’s greatest place to go for a Single Origin espresso while it was inside of the Salvagetti bike store on S. Platte St. Now, it will surely be a great place to go to have some of the nation’s top roasters, including Sightglass, Four Barrel, and Heart, and will boast a dizzying array of espresso options….four to be exact, pulled on two La Marzocco machines: 2 blends and 2 Single Origin options. Happy will also feature three manual brew methods for coffee: chemex, pour-over, and aeropress. Say hello to your new ritual. Opening Date: April 26th.
The Desk -230 E. 13th Ave. (Cap Hill)
The Desk is Denver’s most beautiful space to drink coffee in. Designed by a great couple with an architecture background, the Desk is sure to be a hit in the Cap Hill neighborhood. The space is a coffee shop in front, and a shared/private workspace in the back, with desks and conference rooms available for rent by the hour/day/month. The whole space looks perfect, every detail. They serve coffee from Ink! and for coffee they use bulk drip machines, featuring blends and one single origin coffee. They also serve some great wines and tasty edibles like sandwiches and pastries. Opening date: OPEN
Black Eye Coffee – 3408 Navajo St. (Highlands)
I couldn’t imagine a better neighborhood than the Highlands to enjoy a daily coffee, and Black Eye will be in the perfect location for a cult-like neighborhood following, located next to the Highland Tavern. They will serve coffee via pour-over, press, and clever dripper. For espresso they’ll be featuring Boxcar Stella (Boulder), and a rotating guest roaster, served on a beautiful Synesso. Can’t wait for this shop to open! Expected opening date: Mid-July
Corvus Coffee Roasters – 1947 S. Broadway
You wouldn’t normally walk into a yoga studio and find good, or even drinkable coffee…that is about to change. Corvus’s space is coming along quickly, featuring a full espresso bar, full manual brew bar, and roasting space. Coffee options: pour-over, wood neck, and press (as a customer you’ll be led by the barista into ordering coffee based upon their preference of brewing method for each individual coffee). Expected opening date: May 7.
I am on Colfax Avenue constantly. I am usually on my way to work, dinner, or a coffee shop. It is one of the main arteries of the city and it is right next to where I live. For that reason I have been looking for a good cup of coffee on Colfax Avenue. So I decided to check out Hooked on Colfax, a little shop located (if you couldn’t tell by the name) on Colfax Ave.
When I first walked into the shop, I was really excited the location is convenient and the space is very comfortable looking and decorated with tons of unique local art. The shop has a selection of food including burritos from Mezcal as well as a selection of sandwiches and vegan pastries. The clincher for me was that they also have a good selection of local beers. This is great for someone who loves to make the transition from coffee to beer in the afternoon.
I walked into this shop looking for an almost lethal amount of coffee so I walked up to the bar. After chatting with a barista who was very friendly I found that they were serving Pablo’s for espresso and Corvis for bulk drip coffee. Since my body is pretty much immune to caffeine at this point I decided to order a double shot of espresso, a cappuccino, and a small cup of drip coffee. This way I could run the full gamut of caffination. The double shot was the first to arrive.
On first inspection I noticed that the volume of the shot was a little off. It looked over 2 ounces and it was a pretty large shot. The crema of the shot was very blonde so I assumed it would be over extracted. After asking a few times for a spoon the barista that was leaving ignored me but the barista that was working was happy to oblige. I stirred the shot a couple times and gave it a taste. It was as I suspected over extracted, watery, and slightly bitter with a lot of dark roasted notes.
At this point the cappuccino was handed to me. I would guess that the cup was about 8 ounces with very thick dry foam on top. I noticed that the foam had the texture of meringue and I could easily hold it upside down on the spoon without it dripping off. The cappuccino was milky with very little taste of the espresso. It was more like a latte. When looking at the menu board I noticed that the latte and cappuccino each have three sizes and they are the same price for each size. This leads me to believe that they are making no distinction between the two very different drinks.
Finally, the drip coffee was served from a large airpot that the Fetco they use brews into. This was the high point of the coffee I had. The drip coffee was also a large cup probably about 12 ounces for the small. It was smooth, crisp, with a hint of brightness. I was pretty pleased with the drip coffee, it was nothing cutting edge but it was a good cup of coffee that I enjoyed.
On the whole, the shop is nice and has some awesome options which work well for the area it’s located in. They serve some vegan food items and you can have your choice of soy, rice, and almond milk if that is your thing. They also have a protein smoothie for those who just left one of the many gyms nearby. A bonus is that they are open until 10 p.m. This is great if you’re looking for a late night cup of coffee or want to relax with a cup of tea after dinner. I think this could be a great place to have one of the really tasty looking pastries and a cup of regular coffee in the mornings or a post gym pick me up. Overall though, I’d say this is a decent café but a fairly poor shop for coffee.
“First off let me say, I’ve been so impressed with the enthusiasm of the Denver coffee scene over the past few years. As a west coast native I’ve tried to keep a keen eye on the Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle top shops, But there is no ignoring now that Denver will stay on my radar for years to come. Boasting not only a handful of really solid coffee shops to get a great cup, there are a few local roasters popping up that are rivaling some of the best in the country. Look out Portland, your landlocked little brother just might be on your heels!
With that said, I have the pleasure of giving you a bit of my run down of Denver’s current top dog: Crema Coffee House. This gem really has the soul of a great coffee shop. Being located in the up and coming Larimer industrial area, Crema really owns its hood, feeling just as organic and grass roots as the auto shops and warehouses that have inhabited that street for decades.
At first glance this place would strike you as a hipster hole in the wall with street art murals and a ton of bikes/mopeds parked out front. But don’t be fooled, inside Crema holds some of the best espresso and food Ive ever had the pleasure of tasting.
I have always admired the interior of Crema as well. It’s an artistic aesthetic of industrial, and rustic with a bit of chic thrown in for good measure. They usually have great local art rotating on the walls from month to month, another reason this shop maintains a strong tie with the vibrant community around it.
But lets get back to coffee:
A great plus for Crema in my book, is that they are always featuring new espresso and coffee from some of the best roasters in the country (Victrola, Handsome, Stumptown, Counter Culture, Huckleberry…Just to name a few) And they usually have a steady supply of Herkimer and Novo to make sure there is always appropriately fresh coffee at any time. And I’ve found that just about every barista there can pour a pretty solid latte, cortado, or macchiato. My personal favorite: A nice bright cortado with a fresh made blueberry muffin. Can’t beat it.
There is however a bit of a hang up for Crema’s coffee in my book. I don’t always want to order espresso, I really do enjoy a perfectly brewed cup of black coffee in the morning. They only offer one method of coffee brewing – french press…Although a french press can be delightful, I would really like to see them have a larger selection of brewing methods, at least a chemex or v60 upon request maybe?
I have to give a nod to Crema’s fairly recent addition of a breakfast and brunch menu by their chef Jonathan. Everything on the menu is outstanding. Order it all. Oh and if there is ever a special of the day don’t hesitate, get it. You wont regret it. And if you plan on eating or staying for a while, give your self some time, This place is getting popular fast (for good reason) but still a Sunday morning might as well be rush hour.
With all that said, I really enjoy Crema Coffee house, and it is well worth the trip out of downtown and cap hill. Go check it out!”
I’m a huge proponent of every human having their own slice of community, in the form of a neighborhood coffee shop. The Denver Bicycle Cafe is that ideal place. Cozy enough for a long sit-down, friendly enough to have engaging conversations with complete strangers, and big enough to invite your 80 closest friends. The space is completely glorious, with a large wrap-around bar and lots of additional seating. What I like most though, is the diversity of beverages. Local craft beer? check. Coffee, tea? yup. Wine? Oui. And how is the coffee? Quickly progressing.
They offer coffee via press, which is nice, and they also serve various alternative brewing methods. I ordered a chemex, and the barista discussed their offerings, which included coffees from Pablo’s and Huckleberry roasters. I usually stray away from Pablo’s coffees, and anytime Huckleberry is side-by-side with them, its really no choice at all–Huckleberry is one of my favorite roasters in the entire country right now. I had their Rwandan Kiyego, and honestly thought I was proceeding through the heavenly gates. It was incredible: tea-like, floral, grape, plum, cranberry nuances…yum. Excellent job of brewing it, excellent ratio…everything was spot-on.
The cappuccino was good but not amazing. The barista did everything correctly, but the espresso used just was a little bit lacking in flavor. The milk was perfect though, I will say.
The espresso I had was pulled well, but like the cappuccino, it lacked dimension. I would love to see the shop use Huckleberry for their espresso instead of Pablo’s. I think that’s where coffee is progressing towards, a movement of quality lighter roasts with more brightness and flavor, and the ‘Huck’s’ definitely nail this style.
Overall, I’m really glad this shop exists. It is worth trying. Kudos on using alternative brewing methods like vac pots and chemexes, and whoa, Nell drips…Yaay. Everyone should immediately go try anything in a chemex. Its pretty darn divine. The shop also has the cheapest press coffee in the city, I think, which is great. OK, stop reading and get over here. 17th and Lafayette.
Huckleberry Roasters is into fresh coffee, really fresh coffee. This nano coffee roaster churns out roasted coffee in four pound batches. They ensure that each roast is intrinsically true to the delicate flavors that are inherent in every green coffee bean. They’re also keen on finding the most complimentary brew method that they have available.
Some days you’ll be lucky to catch a pound of something they roasted that morning. Combine this freshness, a simple americana style and unique packaging, and their founding story and you get the very essence of what exactly Huckleberry is. Born out of a decade of collective coffee experience, Koan, Mark, & Derik set out to bring well crafted and small batch coffee to the Denver area.
They’re open to visitors at their 2830 Larimer St location every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 9AM to 3PM. Stop by, they’d love to have you!