By Jennifer Pund
Enjoying coffee at altitude can pose some challenges, but always yields great rewards. Traveling around the Peak to Peak and Interstate 70 corridor provides amply opportunities to warm up with a coffee in any town or around any bend in the road. Dedication of time, and experience are what is needed to roast the perfect batch of beans or brew a tasty cup of coffee at altitude.
Jeremy Allensworth, owner of Mountain Mocha and Untitled Coffee Roasters in Black Hawk said his customers are often surprised by the whole process of roasting. “When our customers see the bags of green [coffee] beans and they see our roaster, they start asking all kinds of questions,” he said.
Most people are usually surprised how quickly a batch can be roasted. “It only takes about 10 or 15 minutes, depending on the bean, and what we are going for in terms of profile,” Allensworth said. He finds that roasting at altitude is a little different than lower elevations. “The thinner air leads to a quicker roast development at a lower temperature. This obviously requires attention and care.”
The thin air also allows for a smoother roast curve and a better roast Allensworth explained. He and his wife, Tiffani Hartz, roast coffee multiple times a week in their shop so customers receive the freshest coffee possible. “If you’re enjoying a cup of coffee that we roasted, it’s no more than two-weeks-old.” Hartz said. “That’s the way we like it.”
The owner of The Coffee Roaster and The Train Cars Coffee & Yogurt Shop in Nederland, Jim Graves, believes if you properly “hone in on the process,” you can get a better roast at a higher altitude. He explained that proper attention and roasting in small batches allows for more control over the process. “Every batch of beans is different. It’s just something you have to play with on an individual basis,” he said. Roasting varies greatly depending on a combination of factors like variety of bean, type of roaster, and the altitude.
“I have found that due to the higher altitude and less oxygen, it seems as though you get a darker roast with altitude, which means you really have to watch out about not burning your coffee.” Graves started with a one-pound roaster to serve his drive-through customers in Golden Gate Canyon and has grown to a couple larger roasters to supply The Train Cars as well as many restaurants, cafés and markets in Boulder and Front Range mountain towns.
Stop in The Train Cars or B&F Mountain Market in Nederland and Taggart’s Gas in mid-Gilpin County to grab some beans to brew at home. Alfalfa’s and Back Country Pizza are outlets in Boulder or you can stop in The Alpine Restaurant, Georgetown Market or Bierstadt Books and Beans in Georgetown when heading to the Western Slope.
Megan Riley, owner of Stage Stop Market in Rollinsville also serves The Coffee Roaster coffee. She said she really likes to educate the casual coffee drinker and feels great coffee doesn’t have to be hard or complicated, but it should come with layers that can be tasted. Known for her pour-over coffee drinks, she believes, “great coffee should make one’s eyes roll back.”
Inkwell & Brew in Estes Park caters to folks, like owners Kevin and Anastacia Galloway, who have an appreciation for finely-crafted goods made in an unhurried manner. In that spirit, their slow bar offers a cold-brewed coffee to the coffee enthusiast where each cup is made at the “gloriously inefficient rate of a drip per second” to better extract the coffee’s flavor. They also offer a variety of coffee drinks and feature small-batches of unique beans for pour-overs.
Salto Coffee Works in Nederland now has a permanent place for a roaster they’ve had since before they opened in 2012. “I’m super excited about it,” Owner Karina Luscher said. Thanks to a successful fundraising effort to vent it, they are now able to roast on site and offer fresh-roasted beans.
Kat Coffield, owner of Cake in Georgetown, received a new espresso machine for her birthday in late December. “I can hardly believe it myself,” she said. Feeling that creating an espresso or coffee drink for a customer is a very personal experience, she is most excited about filling the need for espresso in town while making customers happy.
“We all have preferences. Some like decaf, some like half-caf, some like ‘no-fun’ lattes—with no caffeine and sugar free—while others are partial to the cappuccino. It will be fun getting to know what my customers enjoy,” Coffield said.
Anthony DeSousa knows what his customers like: a double drive-through and the Chicken Fried Latte at SummitView Coffee in Estes Park. Since DeSousa first moved to town eight years ago, it bothered him that you had to park in a small lot, fight for a street space or park blocks away to reach a coffee shop.
“I wondered why there wasn’t a drive-through here, it didn’t make any sense that there wasn’t one, so I built one,” he said. DeSousa feels extensive research and development leads to the best products, so he immersed himself in learning all he could about coffee. Everything they have, or serve, is either locally-sourced or locally-made. He says going the extra mile for quality is worth every penny.
The same commitment goes into SummitView’s drink names. Most reference an animal, like Rutting Elk, Chipmunk Bandit and Stealthy Bobcat. DeSousa once had a fabulous drink and needed a name. While tossing ideas out to friends, he asked, “what’s the stuff they eat in the mid-west, chicken fried steak? How about a Chicken Fried Latte?” When the room exploded with laughter, the name was born. The popular drink is actually peanut butter and chocolate flavored.
Both SummitView and the Barking Dog Café in Lyons use roasted beans from Silver Canyon in Boulder. “Coffee has intrigued me for some 15 years before my decision to pursue it professionally,” Gene Kay Silver Canyon’s founder and roastmaster said.
The owners of Happy Trails Café in Nederland, Casey Kalista and Nick Morgan, love coffee, too. Kalista has worked with coffee for about a decade and loves its social aspect. “I love the interactions I have with people, and I just really like the environment,” she said. “No matter how hard I tried, I just kept coming back to coffee, so I learned more about the culture, the differences between American coffee, European coffee, French and Czech coffee.” She’s now excited to have her own shop.
Like many of the locally-owned coffee shops, Kind Coffee of Estes Park is involved in their local community. After the flood in 2012, Kind was closed for three months to rebuild the store “from the floor boards up.” With a summer’s worth of inventory on hand, owner Amy Hamrick and her employees created Flood Mud Coffee to sell online with the intention to help get through the devastation. Through sales of this blend, Kind was able to donate over $10,000 to the community. “Kind has grown into a community space requiring expanding the store twice to accommodate more comfortable seating, Hamrick said. “And the heart of Kind is our employees.”
There are many other great locally-owned places to come in from the cold and try a unique brew or discover a new blend at altitude. The New Moon Bakery and Blue Owl Books in Nederland, Coal Creek Coffee in Coal Creek Canyon, Main Street Coffee in Idaho Springs, Cholua Bros. Coffee Store in Black Hawk, Tapestry Coffee House in Allenspark, The Stone Cup in Lyons and Coffee on the Rocks in Estes Park all offer a wide variety of tasty coffee drinks. Spirit Hound Distillers in Lyons even turns it into its award-winning 40-proof Richardo’s Coffee Liqueur. There are, of course, some corporately-owned options in the high country, too, but you’ve tried them already.
Independent Coffee Shops at Altitude:
Barking Dog Cafe
431 Main St., Lyons • 303-823-9600
Bierstadt Books & Beans
612 6th St., Georgetown • 303-569-5036
Blue Owl Books
176 Hwy. 119, Nederland • 303-258-3695
710 6th St., Georgetown • 303-569-5043
Choula Bros. Mining Co.
470 Gregory St., Black Hawk • 800-931-2758
Coal Creek Coffee
30509 Hwy 72 (Coal Creek Canyon) • 303-642-1900
Coffee on the Rocks
510 Moraine Ave., Estes Park • 970-586-5181
Happy Trails Café
98 Hwy. 119, Nederland • 303-258-3435
Inkwell & Brew
150 E. Elkhorn Ave, Estes Park • 970-342-1297
470 E. Elkhorn Ave, Estes Park • 970-586-5206
Main Street Coffee
1510 Miner St., Idaho Springs • 303-567-2788
135 Clear Creek St., Black Hawk • 303-582-2011
New Moon Bakery & Cafe
1 West First St., Nederland • 303-258-3569
Salto Coffee Works
112 E Second St., Nederland • 303-258-3537
Stone Cup Café/Rise & Shine Bistro
442 High St., Lyons • 303-823-2345
Stage Stop Market
41 Main St., Rollinsville • 303-258-0649
SummitView Drive-Thru Coffee
865 Moraine Ave, Estes Park • 970-586-1959
6 Ski Road, Allenspark • 303-747-2838
The Train Cars Coffee & Yogurt Co.
101 S. Hwy. 119, Nederland • 303-258-2455
Originally published in the January 2015 issue of the MMAC Monthly