By Tom Hess
Where do you get your caffeine fix? Do you sometimes venture beyond your usual source—the Keurig in the kitchen, the McDonald’s drive-through, or the Starbucks at Safeway?
We’ve noticed independent coffeehouses all along the Front Range gaining notoriety and enticing new customers by offering craft local roasts, alternate brewing methods, milk alternatives (almond, rice and soy), creative menus, local artwork and brainiac, blogging baristas.
So we asked ourselves, what attributes of an independent coffeehouse motivate members of the EnCompass team to venture out?
AAA inspectors do not rate coffeehouses, so you won’t find them in the TourBook. This is a much less formal, far more subjective review. And here’s the short list of things we chose to look for in a coffeehouse:
- People watching
Your own list might be a little different, and if you want to share it with us, send us a friend request on Facebook (EnCompass Tom Hess) and post a comment on our wall, or request to follow us on Twitter (@EnCompassEditor) and send a message.
We visited shops all around Denver and beyond, and found our favorites, listed by category:
The best place to people watch: Pablo’s Coffee
On the rough, red wooden front door is an illustration of a frowning laptop, a tear falling from its eye, and a message below it: Pablo’s doesn’t offer Wi-Fi. “We do however offer free hi fives.”
The best menu: Crema Coffee House
Crema is just north of the Ballpark historic district, in an area of low-cost innovation. And that’s what Crema’s décor suggests, with its mismatched plywood, reclaimed lumber, drywall, and brick walls, its uneven concrete floors bearing the stigmata of past lives, the chairs of differing styles.
The best taste: Aviano Coffee
Cherry Creek North hosts its annual street arts festival in July, just after Independence Day, with high-quality, premium-priced items you won’t find anywhere else in Colorado. And that’s true of the coffee beans at Aviano—one of only a few outlets in America for Intelligentsia, a Chicago-based coffee supplier that engages in “direct trade” with farmers.
The best ambience: St. Mark’s Coffeehouse
St. Mark’s not only displays local art, but is itself a canvas for the owners’ self expression. On my recent visit, shaded floor lamps stood like Merry Pranksters atop the building the coffeeshop shares with The Thin Man Bar. Table lamps hung alongside Chinese lanterns in the trees just outside the front door.
Most unique: Denver Bicycle Café
Where else will you find bicycle repair on the same menu as craft espresso, tea and craft beer?
Well, it turns out that housing espresso machines and pneumatic tire pumps in the same space is a growing phenomenon in places like Portland, Ore., and several college towns. Cranknstein, for example, is a bike-and-brew shop in Fort Collins.
Join the conversation: If you visit any of these five shops, let us know about your experience. Or tell us about your favorite places for caffeine. Remember to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.