Denver’s Coffee Shops Reviewed

Posted: 9.30.2011 in A day in the life...

Being a coffee writer, a freelance journalist and “new” to Denver, I often find myself looking for a local coffee shop to work at and/or acquire some much-needed energy. Though Starbucks generally has the most reliable WiFi and a menu I’ve become extremely comfortable with, I more often opt for indie cafés with character and sometimes their own roasts.

Below are my personal thoughts on the ones I’ve visited thus far, ranging from coffee and food to atmosphere and customer service, as well as a five-star rating.

☆☆☆☆☆ You must go here!
☆☆☆☆  Worth a visit
☆☆☆  Does the job, but nothing to write home about
☆☆  If you’re desperate for coffee and short on time
☆  There are too many great spots to waste your money here

The Bardo Coffee House
238 S Broadway
Denver 80209
Score: ☆☆☆☆

This eclectic coffeeshop on South Broadway is a little rough around the edges – similar perhaps to the folks who frequent the bars just a few blocks down – with its furniture slightly tattered and its interior needing a facelift. But as they, “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover,” because I had one of the most delicious lattes in my first visit here. It was frothy and tasty without being too sweet, and had the perfect coffee profile. Bardo uses beans from Kaladi Coffee Roasters, which I’ve seen at a lot of coffee shops throughout Denver.

The staff isn’t as warm as their coffee, but they know how to make a great coffee. There are other beverages on offer, as well as snacks and baked goods.

There are lots of options for seating in the large space, with cozy, albeit worn, couches and lounge chairs in the back, old-school diner booths in the middle and standard café tables in the front. If you don’t mind slightly dingy, tattered furniture, then settle right in! WiFi is free for two hours (via code) when you make a purchase.

Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters
1619 Reed St.
Lakewood 80214
Score: ☆☆☆

This roaster-coffee shop was named in Food & Wine magazine’s top coffee shops in each state, so of course I had to visit. I probably would have never known about it otherwise, because it’s definitely off the beaten path and very easy to miss.

I love walking into a coffee shop with fresh coffee beans being roasted in the big in-house roaster behind the counter. So when I went early one morning, I was welcomed into the spacious roastery-shop with the smell of roasting coffee.

Much of the space is dedicated to the commercial-sized roasting machinery and packaging operations, so it’s not a place I’d come back to work or relax with my coffee. And to be honest, neither the experience nor the coffee are anything I’d go out of my way for – remember, this place is out of the way.

They have a pretty minimalist menu, which I see a lot with indie coffee shops. It comes off a bit pretentious, and this place in particular doesn’t even have syrups or flavorings for its coffee beverages. I ordered a latte and was offered raw sugar as the only way to add flavor. Again, the coffee was OK.

Cafe Ole
3225 S Wadsworth Blvd.
Lakewood 80227
Score: ☆☆☆☆

This place has become one of my go-to coffee shops for working and a good latte, largely because it’s so close to my house but also because the coffee drinks are good and the customer service is exceptional.

It’s great to see an indie business thriving, and this place definitely is. The owner frequents the coffee shop and knows all the regulars, which are plentiful, and takes pride in his staff and business. The baristas are some of the friendliest, most attentive I’ve ever seen at a coffee shop.

They rotate roasts and only use organic, high-quality beans for their coffee drinks. The menu is pretty extensive, with both standard espresso drinks and specialty drinks like dulce de leche and horchata lattes. They also have a decent food menu, with breakfast burritos and empanadas. I love empanadas, so I always get one (or two) when I’m there to work. The Lomo Saltado (a traditional Peruvian dish) and the spinach cheese are my two favorites. They also have fruit empanadas; check in on Yelp and you can get one of these free! They also participate in the Fivestars Rewards program, so I often get discounts on specialty coffee beverages.

The space is cozy and spacious, with a variety of tables and couches for lounging or working. The decor is a bit hodge-podge and the space overall could use a make-over, but these are minor details in an otherwise great place.

Nixon’s Coffee House
871 Englewood Pkwy.
Englewood 80110
Score: ☆☆☆☆

This is my other go-to coffee shop, generally when I’m coming from the eastern part of town. It’s right off Hampden, near one of my gyms, and right off the Englewood light-rail station. The convenience, atmosphere, generally friendly baristas, and food and drink offerings keep me coming back.

It has lots of seating inside and out for relaxing or getting some work done – generally the latter for me. Free WiFi is always great. The only (minor) downside is that the floor-to-ceiling windows face west, so the setting afternoon sun gets really warm, even with the blinds down, and really heats up the space.

In those occasions, an iced coffee or kombucha are perfectly refreshing. Both are good, as are the hot espresso coffee drinks. They have a selection of baked goods, too. For hot coffee, the standard latte is good. But I especially love how they make a macchiato – just the way I like it! Note: It is not the traditional macchiato, with just espresso and foam. It’s made like an upside-down latte, the same way a big-name chain I dare not speak of makes it and how I learned to love it over the years. Nixon’s also uses Kaladi Coffee Roasters’ beans.

ink! Coffee
1590 Little Raven St.
Denver 80202
Score: ☆☆☆

I’ve seen these all over Denver, so even though it’s a small, local roaster – its roasting facility is downtown in the hip RiNo district – it can now technically be classified as a chain. That said, it’s an OK coffee shop for a chain: nothing special, but nothing negative either. They only have one size for iced drinks, which is weird. I usually stick with 12 oz coffee because I don’t like all the extra milk, so was disappointed to hear 20 oz was my only option. Who needs that much milk?! Fortunately they accommodated my request to not fill the glass to the top with milk. They also gave me a fourth shot of espresso for free, since I ordered three but the machine pours in doubles regardless. As such, I’d rank customer service alone with five stars.

The space isn’t super cozy and it lacks a bit of character, but that’s expected with a chain I suppose. There was ample seating, though, in the large interior space and out on a spacious patio with tables and umbrellas. I wouldn’t be opposed to working from here in the future if I happened to be in the area and needed free WiFi and some coffee.

Novo Coffee
217 S Holly St.
Denver 80246
Score: ☆

I had driven by Novo on Holly several times and wanted to check it out in my explorations of Denver indie coffee shops. Turns out there are several others around Denver, which surprises me considering I didn’t have a very good experience. It was actually quite the let down in many ways – so much that I left early and will definitely not be back to this location or any others.

Why?

  • The staff were not friendly and seemed annoyed by customers coming in. And for some reason, there were about five baristas working for very minimal traffic.
  • My coffee was not made correctly. The barista who was annoyed by having to work clearly didn’t listen to my order because I could tell it was off. (I will say the coffee itself was decent, though.)
  • There are no outlets for people to charge phones or computers. And the one extension cord they had available was pulled into the middle of the room, creating a trip hazard.
  • The temperature in the café was completely out of whack. When we arrived on a sunny winter day, the heat was blasting inside and everyone inside was visibly uncomfortable. Not long after we arrived and got settled, the AC kicked on and dropped the temp to an equally uncomfortable frigid level.

At one point during our short visit, the owner stopped by (I recognized him from his photo on the company website). To my surprise, he didn’t seem to notice or care about the issues with the excessive (and rude) staff or the uncomfortable, inconvenient setting.

St. Mark’s Coffee House
2019 E 17th Ave.
Denver, CO 80206
Score: ☆

The only positive about this place was the people watching. It’s an eclectic crowd and we happened to be lucky enough to sit next to a gal who called a meeting with a guy she has a crush on who is currently involved in a love triangle with her two friends. The awkward conversation that was going down between them kept me entertained and distracted from the horrible experience I was having at St. Marks.

The only barista working seemed incapable of actually doing his job and clearly hated that he was at work. I’m not sure if this is him every day, or if he was unsuccessfully recovering from a wild night.

I ordered a nonfat vanilla latte with just a little vanilla. It took quite a while to make, and once I got it I found it was poorly made and not the right drink. It had zero foam; I watched as he half-assed steamed the milk and slopped it into my glass. It also had zero vanilla; I never saw him put any in and I couldn’t taste any. When I brought it back up and asked him to add it in, he snapped that I didn’t order vanilla…. Umm, ok.

My sister attempted to order a breakfast sandwich but he struggled to understand what she wanted, and then made it very clear that he did not want to accommodate her simple request of no cheese. Frustrated, she just ordered a toasted bagel and cream cheese. Within 30 seconds, he managed to forget who she was and burn her bagel. “Do you need something?” he said, and so she reminded him of her bagel, which was burned by this point. Instead of accepting it, which he expected her to do, she just asked for a croissant.

The place is expansive, with lots of seating. What’s unfortunate is that not a single table had been wiped down that day – or dare I say that week? Even after wiping down the tables ourselves, they were still grimy. The floor was dirty too.

Corvus Coffee Roasters
1740 S Broadway
Denver 80210
Score: ☆☆

This place off Broadway has a great patio and beautiful signage on the wall that would have easily called me in off the street had I not already sought it out via Yelp.

Like Sweet Bloom above, the space smelled of freshly roasted beans because the space operates as a cafe and roastery. A barista and the cafe counter greeted me at the front and a roaster was hard at work in the back, perfecting the latest batch. High-top tables, chairs and bags of green coffee were intermingled (tightly) between the two spaces. While it’s definitely neat to be among “the action” of a roastery, the space was way too cramped; it’s just too small for all the seats they tried to fit in there. The only seat I could find available was the bar along the side, which basically required me to climb over coffee bags and bump a row of other patrons every time I needed to pass through. I’d recommend reducing the number of chairs and tables inside or find a way to store the green coffee elsewhere.

The barista was super friendly and helped me order when I stared at the minimalist menu with a confused look on my face. I ended up with my standard latte – it was good, but nothing to write home about. And unfortunately I ended up not getting to enjoy it and having to drink it very quickly because the café’s “free WiFi” wasn’t working. Aside from preferring indie roasters/cafés over chains, the WiFi is why I chose this place. So needless to say, it was super annoying to find out the WiFi didn’t actually work AFTER I ordered.

If the coffee was amazing, I’d probably go back, but it was pretty standard for a specialty roaster-café, so I won’t likely go back considering all the negatives with the actual setting.

2914 Coffee
2914 W 25th Ave.
Denver 80211
Score: ☆☆☆☆

This great little café is on a tiny business strip just off Federal near the Highland neighborhood. The café is cute and eclectic, with mismatched vintage-y furniture – even a barber’s chair! It also has a great patio out front with lots of seating for warm days.

Like many of the shops I’ve visited, 2914 uses Kaladi Roasters coffee beans. I haven’t had an espresso I didn’t like using Kaladi bean, so I can go into most cafés with their beans and feel confident I’ll like the coffee drinks. And as anticipated, I enjoyed my latte while eating a raspberry scone and working on the free WiFi. They also have a variety of paninis that sounded good.

Unfortunately I’m rarely in this part of town, particularly during the time of day when I would need a coffee or somewhere to work, so I don’t see myself frequenting the café. I highly recommend it for others in the area, though.

Coda Coffee Co.
5224 W 25th Ave.
Denver 80214
Score: ☆☆☆☆

Coda is technically in Edgewater, which is a little unincorporated township right off Sloan’s Lake. It’s a bright little coffee shop right on “main street.” Their other location is the roastery in North Denver. I’ve seen some of their coffee used at a couple local shops, but would love to see more because I really like it.

I first stopped in on my way to work and got a vanilla latte to go. It was one of the most delicious I had ever tasted! When I went back, the latte didn’t knock my socks off the second time, but it was still good. They also have good cold brew, and I believe they have kombucha on tap. They sell pastries and breakfast foods from local businesses.

Because Edgewater and its main street are small, the businesses are naturally small themselves. As such, the seating area in Coda leaves a bit to be desired. Seating is somewhat cramped in an odd-shaped, narrow space – not ideal for lounging or working. I don’t believe it’s air-conditioned either.

So needless to say, I probably wouldn’t go back with intentions of working there, but I definitely will go back for a great coffee beverage.

Fun side note: In writing about Probat, a German commercial coffee roaster manufacturer, for an article, I learned that Coda co-owner Tim Thwaites won a contest Probat put on at last year’s Specialty Coffee Expo to visit the company’s state-of-the-art headquarters in Emmerich, Germany.

Pigtrain Coffee
1701 Wynkoop St.
Denver 80202
Score: ☆☆☆

This is coffee shop is in the newly renovated Union Station in downtown Denver. Because it doesn’t really have any seating and, instead, relies on the train station’s seating in the Great Hall waiting area, it’s more of a coffee bar. Also because it’s in the train station, it’s a great place to pick up a coffee before your departure or on your return. As such, it’s a busy spot but the baristas are pretty good about keeping the line moving.

They have a decent selection of coffee and other drinks. I decided to go with a unique specialty latte with lavender, but unfortunately I wished I had stuck with my go-to vanilla latte. The lavender-espresso combination made it taste a bit like potpourri; the lavender just gave it a weird flowery taste. I can see it going well with tea, but not coffee. Now I know. Unfortunately I can’t comment on the other coffee beverages and I couldn’t even really tell if I liked the coffee itself.

I guess they also make coffee alcoholic beverages and cocktails, too, which I’m assuming are more popular with the evening crowd that flows through the Great Hall. They use coffee and espresso beans from locally owned Conscious Coffee.

SloHi Coffee Company
4436 W 29th Ave.
Denver 80212
Score: ☆☆

This coffee shop combines its operations with a bike shop, which is a bit of an odd combination and doesn’t make the coffee side ideal for relaxing or working. It’s better for people looking for a coffee to-go. I was in dire need of some caffeine on the go, so it worked perfectly for me. And because bikes flowed in an out of the space, the barista didn’t even bat an eye when I came in with a double-jogger stroller.

Come to think about it, he didn’t really show any emotion to me or any customers. The barista wasn’t very friendly.

I got a cold brew, which was good but pretty standard. They use beans/roasts from a few local roasters, which I always appreciate. One of those is Strava Coffee, a company I had the opportunity to interview and write about. They have a line of hemp-infused coffees (with CBD), so I thought that was a unique and interesting addition to the coffee shop’s menu. If I wasn’t on the clock, I might have considered trying it.

Copper Door
900 W. 1st Avenue #180
Denver 80223
Score: ☆☆☆

If a person didn’t intentionally seek out a nearby coffee shop or patronize one of the nearby businesses, this place could easily go unnoticed. It’s in this tiny little indie business district below Santa Fe called the Yard. I have no idea how the mish-mash of businesses in there came together, but it’s quirky and I like it.

Copper Door isn’t quirky, per se, but it’s a great coffee shop in what looks like it used to be an auto garage of sorts. For the first half hour I was there, the big garage bay was open, letting the nice spring weather into the large open space. The barista pulled the door down when it started raining.

I got a cold brew, which was good, but I resisted my temptation to get a pastry. They have quite the selection of yummy-looking baked goods. I think they also have some hot items, like breakfast sandwiches and burritos.

As I mentioned, the indoor space is large. It’s pretty minimalist and clean with some seating up front and the coffee bar in the center. In the back is the roaster; they roast all their beans, and I believe there are a couple other locations, including the original.

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