At 9 a.m. on Saturday October 17, a crowd of people lined up along Larimer Street to squeeze into the parking lot next to Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company. But it wasn’t for beer that these people gathered—they journeyed for coffee. Specifically, specialty coffee provided by 12 local roasteries at the second annual Grand Coffee Bazaar. Attendees were able to not only sample a variety of high-end coffee, but had the opportunity to learn about the process behind their favorite caffeinated beverage.
While last year’s event marked the emergence of a new coffee culture in Denver, this year’s sold-out attendance proved that this culture is not only here to stay, but is growing. 303 Magazine decided to learn more about the progress of Denver’s coffee community by asking its members how they view its development. Read on to learn what makes Denver different and where this coffee movement is headed.
While in recent years there has been an impressive spike in the number of craft coffee roasters, there are a few who have been around since it was still cool to say your favorite drink was a venti mocha frappuccino. These people have been able to witness the growth of the community and the change in attitude of Denver’s coffee drinkers.
“There’s different types of coffee and this is more the high-end specialty coffee where people are trying to evaluate the flavors and understand what makes coffee better,” explained Josh Taves, brand manager for Novo Coffee, about the nature of the local coffee scene. “Denver’s really on the edge of that.”
Originally from Colorado, Taves moved to Minneapolis in 2012 because there was more opportunity to work with coffee in other states. He then returned in January due to Denver’s rapid growth. And Taves isn’t the only one recognizing Denver’s potential. After 10 years making wholesale coffee, Copper Door Coffee Roasters opened its first retail location a year ago and experienced firsthand the interest and welcoming attitude of Denver’s coffee lovers.
“This town’s really passionate about coffee,” said Heather McCullough, cafe manager for Copper Door. “And it’s really great that we have an event where we get to talk about it and inform more.”
The Grand Coffee Bazaar also provided a location for smaller roasters to really experience the community. “It’s fun to just sit around and geek out with other people who geek out over coffee,” explains Amanda Iseminger, who owns Flying Baron Roasters with her husband, Kyle. The Isemingers have really benefited from this coffee explosion in Denver. Each of them has a full-time job and they decided to start roasting out of their garage 3 years ago. This independent participation wouldn’t necessarily be possible in a less inviting coffee community, but the people of Denver welcomed the outsiders at Flying Baron with open arms.
“People are just really receptive to specialty coffee and willing to try these things and pay premiums for truly premium products,” said Dom Etre, director of new business for Corvus Coffee Roasters. Being a particularly old roastery, Corvus has been able to observe many changes in the coffee scene, yet the growth in popularity and the increase in coffee roasteries has not intimidated them. “There’s still a lot of room for us,” explains Etre in regards to the industry’s expansion. Denver’s consistent enthusiasm means that “there’s a lot of coffee still to come.”
The friendliness does not stop with consumers; the coffee roasters are just as welcoming of each other as we are of them. Part of that stems from the fact that each roaster has a unique angle on the industry and a specific way in which they are providing this service.
“Everybody does such a good job, everybody does something different, which is what’s neat about the coffee scene,” said Jay Louis DeRose from Middle State Coffee. However, it’s not just individuality that creates a positive atmosphere for coffee roasters. It is, in large part, just the nature of Denverites.
“It’s pretty amazing that you have roasters coming together to share their product at the same table,” said Andy Sprenger, owner of Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters. “You don’t see that kind of camaraderie in other parts of the country.” This observation is confirmed again and again by members of the coffee community who have experienced coffee in other states. Denver is special, and Denver coffee, particularly so.
“That’s what I love about the coffee industry,” said Catie Cook, barista at veteran Denver roastery Huckleberry Roasters. “I think it kind of connects everyone in a real and tangible way…It’s not meant to be intimidating,” Cook continued. “And I think that events like this really show that we all just want to share our knowledge and excitement over coffee and the community it brings.”
The positive aspects of the craft coffee scene are not limited to the Denver area, or even to Colorado for that matter. The upbeat nature of our coffee scene contributes to an overall inspiration to make coffee a force for good.
“It’s about bettering the lives of farmers, and it’s all full circle,” explained Etre of Corvus. “The better their lives are, the better coffee we can get, the better coffee we can serve…That’s the coolest thing about coffee: if you’re doing it right, everyone wins.”
The roasters at Coda Coffee Co. especially focus on this international perspective. Coda is a certified “B Corp“, which indicates accountability, positive impact, and transparency for both people and the environment. Coda’s Co-President Tim Thwaites takes this position very seriously and is excited about the increased interest in coffee. “With demand for more quality, the farmers and importers are all stepping up,” Thwaites explained.
Thwaites’ enthusiasm does not stop with him, however; his employees are just as passionate about their global impact. Coda’s roast-master, Matt Heltzel, admits that while purchasing an entire lot from the same farmers year after year “is a commitment to sometimes being okay with a drop in quality,” it ultimately builds positive relationships.
Denver’s growth is possible, of course, because there is enthusiasm and curiosity among the people of Denver. This growth is further supported by the progressive philosophy and encouraging attitude of its roasters, which makes the coffee of Denver not just innovative and delicious, but ethical as well.