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Colorado Springs is 'second to none' for top-notch coffee

Insider 2017

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Story Coffee Company - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Story Coffee Company

To examine the coffee scene in Colorado Springs, we tap a United States Barista Championship judge who happens to be living among us: Carissa Niemyer, co-owner of Story Coffee Company, the tiny house parked in Acacia Park.

"We've been really impressed with quality across the board here," she says. "We spent a lot of time traveling, and our amount of quality, third-wave shops, per capita, has some of the bigger cities beat out — our quality is second to none."

She cites a recent customer who shared that she was in Portland last month, expecting to be wowed by the shops. She wasn't. In fact, she told Niemyer, "We already have this in the Springs — that's super exciting."

As our elected officials and business leaders hustle to attract more millennials to town, they should be grateful for the bounty of smart coffee shops — a stereotypical staple of hipster living and familiar backdrop to techies and those just needing Wi-Fi to work remote. But our best shops aren't just hubs. They're homes for meaningful dialogue and meetings of the minds, where community gathers and grows.

Now, before we get into a list of places most worthy of the name-drop, let's acknowledge that some java drinkers couldn't care less about single-origin or direct-source coffees or the subtle aromatics of a clean espresso. They want something dark in a cup with caffeine, and even something out of a 7-Eleven machine or generic diner pot will do, the more cream and sugar the better. No judgment; drink what you like, we still love you, but this article's not for you.

Let's also clarify that we acknowledge a place for Starbucks and Dutch Bros. (though we prefer to support local, independent shops) and the many totally serviceable drive-thru outfits that get the job done with plenty of personality and no shortage of syrups. But we're limiting our roundup here to those dedicated to the next level of coffee culture, commonly called "third-wave" as done by Niemyer above.

One force driving the movement to new heights is the USBC, which, she says, "ups the ante," giving baristas the chance to network with the best in the industry, gain "a broader view," and bring ideas, techniques and new gadgets back to their respective home towns. The annual event focuses on hospitality and service as well, she notes, rewarding approachability and knowledge, again "forcing us to up our game."

Springs native Charles Babinski won the national event in 2015, representing his lauded Los Angeles-area shops. Tyler Hill, co-owner of Loyal Coffee, made it to the nationals in 2016 and this year, and will compete in late April in Seattle, along with Eliza Lovett of Story Coffee Company. Niemyer notes that signature beverages created for competition are increasingly making their way into local shops as specials, often blending with craft spirit culture. Examples seen locally: espresso and tonic, a cold brew margarita spin-off, or a coffee old fashioned.

To examine the top tier, both Loyal Coffee (408 S. Nevada Ave., loyalcoffee.co) and Story Coffee (120 E. Bijou St., storycoffeecompany.com) are great spots to start. The former was opened by a small batch of our top local baristas, who roast off-site and perfect every pour; Story is equally meticulous (roasting with Hold Fast Coffee Co. off Academy Boulevard).

Urban Steam (1025 S. Sierra Madre St., urbansteamcoffee.com) brings its own cool, offbeat brand of exacting coffee (and spirits) service, delving into some rare micro-lot coffees and making a killer Cubano, among other espresso drinks. The Principal's Office (1604 S. Cascade Ave., poativywild.com) at Ivywild School, from which many of Loyal's baristas came, makes excellent drinks, including amusing coffee mocktails like a gingerbrew with bitters, housemade ginger beer and cold brew.

SwitchBack Coffee Roasters (330 N. Institute St., switchbackroasters.com) serves the Shooks Run area in style, roasting on one half its footprint and running a hip café with precision pours on the other — get a lavender latte. Building Three Coffee Roasters (2727 N. Cascade Ave., building3coffee.com) operates a roastery and café out of Lincoln Center and makes a mean drink; cold brew on nitro's a good choice there. Back downtown, Wild Goose Meeting House (401 N. Tejon St., wildgoosemeetinghouse.com) has garnered a wide following with consistent drinks, from the standards to standout pourovers, all via guest roasters.

Peak Place (2360 Montebello Square Drive., peakplace.com) quickly put itself on the map, a home to the aforementioned Hold Fast Coffee Co. beans, and quality coffees like a recent bourbon barrel-aged collaboration with Axe and the Oak Whiskey. R&R Coffee Café (11424 Black Forest Road, rnrcoffeecafe.com), also a roastery, remains reason alone to drive into Black Forest. Colorado Coffee Merchants (302 E. Fillmore St., facebook.com/umpireestate) was a local pioneer for finer coffee, launching many local baristas' careers over the years.

Honorable mentions:

Some additional shout-outs to places we like for personality and for serving their respective 'hoods admirably with well-made drinks: near-neighbors Mission Coffee (11641 Ridgeline Drive, missioncoffeeroasters.com) and Café Velo (11550 Ridgeline Drive, cafevelobikes.com); Rosco's Coffee House (432 W. Bijou St., roscoscoffeehouse.com); Stir (2330 N. Wahsatch Ave., stircoffeeshop.com); Nemo's Coffee (2114 E. Pikes Peak Ave., nemoscoffee.com); Speedtrap Bistro (84 Hwy. 185, Palmer Lake, speedtrapbistro.com); Blank Canvas Café (103 S. Wahsatch Ave., dreamcatcherscos.com); Jives Coffee Lounge (16 Colbrunn Court and 5865 N. Nevada Ave., jivescoffeelounge.com); The Perk Downtown (14 S. Tejon St., theperkdowntown.com); Agia Sophia (2902 W. Colorado Ave., agiasophiacoffeeshop.com); Sacred Grounds Coffee in the Canyon (1801 W. Cheyenne Blvd., sacredgroundsbroadmoor.com); and Red Dog Coffee & Café (739 Manitou Ave., reddogcoffeemanitou.com).

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