On the surface, coffee is simple. It’s just two ingredients: water and ground coffee beans. Sometimes it’s augmented with milks and sweeteners and, for those seeking a perfect cup of coffee, it can take years to master. But at its core, it’s straightforward. Even the most untrained coffee consumer can learn the basics of brewing within a few minutes (and those familiar with K-Cups, it can be a matter of seconds). But beneath the dark, saturated waters of even the most average cup of coffee, there is almost always a story.

This year, our exploration of Denver’s coffee scene proved this. With each shop we’re able to see first hand how coffee can embody everything from family histories to the identity of a neighborhood and even act as a vessel for distant cultures. We met people who use coffee to employ homeless youth and others that use it to actualize a long awaited dream. Coffee, we learned, might be just water and roasted beans, but it is also a connector.

Read on to hear the stories behind the local coffee shops we visited in 2015 and see how this simple drink is bringing together people in our city.

Note: this is a chronological list of past reviews. To see the most recent reviews, scroll to the bottom. Most photography was created by 303 Magazine. 

The New Two Rivers Coffee

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Two Rivers Coffee. Photo by Crystal Rhea.

By Julianna Amann

What: Two Rivers Coffee

Where: 7745 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada

Neighborhood: North Arvada

Eric Yochim, who was born in Long Beach, has lived most of his life in Colorado. He grew up in Arvada and originally began his career in fine dining with a gig as the general manager at the now-shuttered O’s restaurant. But when the  struggling Novo Coffee Shop in Arvada asked him in 2010 to take over the business he decided to take a risk. Yochim stepped into the realm of coffee with an intent to serve his community with the best possible products. That certainly seems to be the case today. Read more here.

Femininity Reigns at Amethyst Coffee Co. 

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Amethyst Coffee Co. Photo by Lindsey Bartlett.

By Kersten Jaeger

What: Inventive coffee options and a friendly atmosphere

Where: 1111 Broadway St., Suite 101, Denver

Neighborhood: The Golden Triangle

When: 7 a.m.- 4 p.m., every day

At Amethyst Coffee Co, two women are running the show. This is unusual in the “boy’s club”of the coffee industry. But this is not at all worrying for Amethyst owner, Elle Taylor; rather, femininity is what she is hoping to promote at her new Broadway coffee shop. Read more here.

Family Matters at La Belle Rosette

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La Belle Rosette. Photo by Crystal Rhea.

By Kersten Jaeger

What: Great coffee and homemade pastries as well as select wine and beer

Where: 2423 S. University Blvd, Denver

Neighborhood: DU 

When: Monday – Friday, 6 a.m.- 9 p.m., Saturday, 7 a.m.- 9 p.m., and Sunday, 8 a.m.- 2 p.m.

Meaning “the beautiful little rose,” La Belle Rosette is the perfect embodiment of such a phrase. The small coffee shop with its red door and decorative lights sit like a flower, peeking out from the sea of concrete on South University Boulevard. The sense of comfort and the casual nature of the place are not incidental according to co-owner Scott Gilsdorf, who runs La Belle Rosette with his three siblings and two parents. Read more here.

 It’s All About Chemistry at The Molecule Effect

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The Molecule Effect. Photo by Kyle Cooper.

By Kersten Jaeger

What: Fun and original menu items made for the community by the community

Where: 1201 Santa Fe dr., Suite A, Denver

Neighborhood: Art District on Sante Fe

When: Monday- Saturday 6 a.m.- 9 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m.- 7 p.m.

While exploring Denver, the city can appear to be less of a large metropolis and more of a patchwork quilt of diverse and unique neighborhoods. While many of these neighborhoods have strong communities and individual style, the Art District on Sante Fe is especially characterized by its vibrant artistic culture. On this stretch of North Sante Fe drive, you can find over 100 art galleries that regularly collaborate with restaurants and other businesses in the area to establish events such as the First Friday Art Walk. However, area residents Mark Landman and Megyn Rodgers noticed there was something missing… Read more here.

Europa Coffee House is a Neighborhood Gem

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Europa Coffee House. Photo by Delmy Gooch.

By Kersten Jaeger

What: Wash Park neighborhood hangout with locally roasted coffee and an all day breakfast served until 5 p.m. 

Where: 76 S. Pennsylvania St, Denver

Neighborhood: Wash Park

When: Monday-Friday, 6 a.m. – 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 6:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Despite its hidden location and minimal advertising, Europa Coffee House has no trouble drawing in customers. On a particularly rainy Friday, the high number of people gathered in the artsy coffee shop might have seemed surprising to those unfamiliar with Europa – but according to general manager, Zale Hassler, it was still a light crowd. Maybe it’s the all-day breakfast that draws them in or maybe it’s the delicious craft coffee, but more than likely it’s the friendly and relaxed atmosphere that keeps customers coming back — even on these not-so sunny days. Read more here.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony at Whittier Cafe

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Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony at Whittier Cafe.

By Kersten Jaeger

What: A coffee shop in the Whittier neighborhood that hosts regular coffee ceremonies

Where: 1710 E. 25th Ave, Denver

 Neighborhood: Whittier

When: Monday-Friday, 6:30  a.m. – 7 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Coffee ceremonies Sundays at 2 p.m.

Every Sunday at 2 p.m., a small, sleepy cafe in a secluded Denver neighborhood hosts one of the most cultural and unique experiences happening in our city. Whittier Cafe, owned by Ethiopian local, Millete Birhanemaskel, invites people from all walks of life to gather for a weekly Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Read more here.

An Argentinian Experience at Maria Empanada 

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Maria Empanada. Photo by Glenn Ross.

By Kersten Jaeger

What: Argentinian food, coffee, and atmosphere at a comfortable neighborhood location.

Where: 1298 S. Broadway, Denver

Neighborhood: Platt Park 

When: Monday – Saturday, 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m., Sundays, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Coffee shops generally boast similar qualities: excellent espresso, relaxing atmosphere and friendly staff. The art on the walls may vary and the staff probably plays slightly different music, but the same staples are always there. Down on Broadway, however, there is a coffee shop which advertises  particularly unique attributes: empanadas, Argentinian coffee drinks, and an espresso machine blessed by the Pope. Read more here.

International Influence at Stowaway Coffee + Kitchen

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Stowaway Coffee. Photo by Brittany Werges.

By Brittany Werges

What: a new coffee shop with a full-service kitchen  in RiNo

Where: 2528 Walnut St., Denver

Neighborhood: RiNo

When: Weekdays, 7 a.m.- 3 p.m. (Closed Tuesdays); Weekends, 8 a.m.- 3 p.m.

She lived on the west side, he on the east. She was an American living abroad, he was a New Zealander doing the same. They were both teachers, educating students in a foreign language on a small island in the Sea of Japan. At first they didn’t know each other — despite their similar occupation and the constraints of the island. But one day, they met, quite literally in the middle of their transient home. Supposedly it was then, over a bowl of “the world’s spiciest Indian curry,” that this couple, and the soon-to-be owners of Stowaway Kitchen + Coffee, fell in love. Eventually the pair would move to mainland Japan and then to Melbourne where their long-term love affair with coffee as well as our story would begin… Read more here

Coffee, Whiskey & Fashion at Bellwether

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Bellwether. Photo by Trenton Reed.

By Trenton Reed

What: A curated retail storefront, full-service coffee shop and whiskey bar and members-only workspace and barbershop.

Where: 5126 E. Colfax, Denver

Neighborhood: East Colfax/Mayfair

When: Daily, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Bellwether is many things. From a full-service coffeehouse and whiskey bar to a shared co-working space, this concept is an amalgamation of elements essential for our city’s expanding entrepreneurial community. But for co-founders Josh Schmitz, Rustin Coburn, Athena Brownson and Adam McCarty, the shop —which is located on East Colfax, north of the rapidly expanding Mayfair neighborhood— was the next logical step in a series of endeavors. And it’s shaping up to be one of the city’s coolest experiments in 2015. Read more here.

Habit & Carbon Brings Brioche, Booze & Coffee to Platte Street

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Habit & Carbon. Photo by Kyle Cooper.

By Trenton Reed

What: A double-sided doughnut and coffee bodega paired with a customizable, intimate beverage and food space located next door. 

Where: 1553 Platte St., Denver

Neighborhood: Confluence

When: Monday-Sunday, 6 a.m. – 12 a.m.

On August 15, Habit Doughnut Dispensary and Carbon Beverage Café opened in the former home of the shuttered Paris on the Platte. Once an ignored industrial backstreet, the Confluence neighborhood is now a microcosm of Denver’s rapid development. And while losing an institution will inevitably be met with mixed opinions, this new concept seems to understand the space that it is filling. In addition to paying homage to the space’s renegade roots, the cohesive concept embraces the progressive area. Read more here.

Alpine Modern Brings Brand to Life with Boulder Cafe

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Alpine Modern Cafe. Photo courtesy of Alpine Modern.

By Nora Philbin

What: Craft coffee and made to order breakfast and lunch in a grocery store turned cafe.

Where: 904 College Ave., Boulder

Neighborhood: The Hill

When: Daily, 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.

With just over a month under its belt, the new Alpine Modern cafe, nestled just past The Hill in Boulder, is the third and final installment of the Alpine Modern lifestyle brand.

Lon McGowan, founder of Alpine Modern, has started a quarterly magazine, created a consumer goods shop in Boulder, and opened a cafe on The Hill—all in the past year.

“Our whole mission is to promote modern design in the mountains,” McGowan said, sitting in a corner booth of his cafe. “It’s experiential [the cafe], it’s acquisition [the consumer goods store], and it’s inspirational [the magazine]. And those three things combined is our lifestyle brand.”

And what’s more important to a lifestyle brand than proper caffeine? Read more here.

Lula Rose General Store Has Deep Family Roots

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Lula Rose General Store. Photo by Nora Philbin.

By Nora Philbin

What: a small old-fashioned cafe with a family feel and a wide selection of coffee

Where: 3434 E. Colfax Ave., Denver

When: Tuesday – Saturday, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Neighborhood: Bluebird District

Walking into Lula Rose General Store on Colfax and Madison is similar to a time hop; the small store fronted with all windows and a large ‘Coffee Shop’ sign on top is reminiscent of an old-fashioned diner. The eight-week-old cafe and 24-year-old Oliver Miller-Finkel, founder, owner, and barista have relied on simplicity to stay steady.

In the historic neighborhood, it seems only right that Miller-Finkel would tap into his own family history which inspired the shop’s name and logo. “It’s my great-aunt’s name, and she is 95. She also was a flower arranger when she was younger. This used to be a flower shop, so it kind of made sense to mix that together,” he said.

The logo, a B17 plane, came from the type of plane that his grandfather flew in World War II, and his single pull espresso machine is custom made in the colors of the Tar Heels, University of North Carolina’s mascot, for the place Miller-Finkel calls home. For the one man show, Lula Rose is a family affair. Read more here.

The New Black Eye Coffee is Secretly a Bar 

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Black Eye Coffee Cap Hill. Photo by Kyle Cooper.

By Brittany Werges

What: Black Eye Coffee’s new location in Capitol Hill  that moonlights as a bar and restaurant. 

Where: 820 Sherman St., Denver

Neighborhood: Capitol Hill

When: 6 a.m – 2 a.m., Daily

For the last year, Black Eye Coffee has kept the details about its second location relatively secret. The team, consisting of five co-owners, expressed that the Capitol Hill outpost would be different. They said it would offer food, maybe even booze. By keeping the same name, it seemed that it would mainly be a coffee shop, but it has turned out to be much more.

“We have an alter ego,” said Steven Waters, co-owner of Black Eye Coffee on a hazy Sunday afternoon at Cap Hill new location. Waters then walked over behind the bar and hooked his finger on the edge of the black shelves. With the added press of his palm, he flipped the large panels to reveal a new shelf filled with liquor bottles. “We’ve dubbed it White Lies,” he said as the large collection of jewel-toned amaros and chartreuses sloshed back and forth. Although Black Eye Cap Hill will still serve coffee, he explained, it is not just a coffee shop, but a full service bar and restaurant. Read more here.

Overt Opens Its Doors for Coffee and Quick Lunches

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Overt Coffee. Photo by Glenn Ross.

By Nora Philbin

What: A tiny new café with great coffee and easy takeaway breakfast and lunch.

Where: 712 1/2 South Pearl St., Denver

When: Monday – Friday 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.; weekends 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Neighborhood: West Wash Park

If you’re not careful walking down Pearl Street in West Wash Park, you could miss the brand new Overt Cafe. Located only two doors down from its sister restaurant, Vert, the compact cafe is nestled in an alleyway between two buildings. Read more here.

Allegro Coffee Roasters’s Inaugural Cafe

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Allegro Coffee Roasters Cafe. Photo by Nora Philbin.

What: Allegro Coffee Roasters first freestanding café and roaster

Where: 4040 Tennyson St., Denver

When: Opens November 18; Regular hours, 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday

After more than 30 years, Allegro Coffee Roasters (ACR) is coming home to Colorado with its first stand-alone café and roaster on Tennyson.  Allegro started in Boulder in 1977 and have locations in Brooklyn, New York and Berkeley, California but so far have only maintained a wholesale business. Both of these roasting locations are housed within Whole Foods Markets.

“This is one of the most exciting things I’ve been a part of with Allegro,” said Matt McCarty, the education and training coordinator in regards to the cafe. Open to the public on November 18, the café promises an extensive coffee menu sourced from around the world that will please the coffee connoisseurs to the caffeine addicts.  Read more here.

Purple Door Coffee Shop to Start Roasting to Help Homeless Youth

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Purple Door Coffee. Photo by Glenn Ross

By Nora Philbin

What: A specialty coffee shop that employs homeless youth to help get them off the streets

Where: 2962 Welton St., Denver

Neighborhood: Five Points

When: Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Walking into Purple Door Coffee in Five Points, it would be hard to distinguish from the many specialty coffee shops that have made their homes in and around Denver. Supplied locally by popular roaster, Corvus, and catering to a young, up-and-coming crowd, Purple Door’s youthful vibe is familiar. This place is different though, and very special, especially to those who call it home. Founded by Madison Chandler, Purple Door Coffee opened their big purple door in 2013 with the sole purpose to create a place to employ homeless youth and give them a chance to leave life on the street behind. Read more here.