One look at the crowds that have quickly begun forming in and around Ti: Cafe Ta, it wouldn’t be much of a reach to assume that the trendy storefront was hosting some pop-up for a visiting member of the A-list. In the world of fashion, it’s hardly unusual to see mobs forming outside of shops — with legions of fans waiting for hours to meet their heroes or purchase the latest coveted release. In the world of coffee, however, the phenomenon is not quite so commonplace.
Even so, the recently-debuted Vietnamese coffee shop — owned and operated by sisters Sashaline, Shominic and Shasitie Nguyen — appears to be attracting a similar buzz, despite having only opened as recently as June 19.
Part of the appeal could be the beautifully curated art installation that greets customers as they walk in the door and grabs the attention of those passing by. Or maybe it’s the fact that each cup comes wrapped with a tag that’s indistinguishable from the kind found on most of today’s haute garments. The endless playlist of hand-picked Vietnamese and Korean rap music probably doesn’t hurt either. “We wanted to market our stuff in a way that’s totally different than most other coffee shops,” said Shominic.
The siblings— who go by Sash, Shom and Shas for short — have long hoped to open a business together. “We always knew we wanted to start our own business as sisters,” said Shom, noting that they initially hoped to do so by way of the fashion industry. After some discussion, the three opted to apply their artistic vision to food and beverage. “We love fashion and all things creative, but this is not the state for it,” laughed Sash, adding that the three of them spent most of their childhood and all of their adult years in and around the Mile High.
Realizing that Colorado was noticeably lacking in anywhere that focused exclusively on Vietnamese coffee, the trio set to work. “You ask anyone where to go to get Vietnamese coffee and it’s always going to be a pho restaurant,” said Sash. “Vietnamese coffee culture is so big, we wanted to share that with Denver because the coffee culture here is also exciting,” she continued. Clearly still driven by aesthetics, the Nguyen sisters have transplanted many of the ideas that make for a successful clothing brand into a shop that sells coffee, sodas, macarons and a range of other savory and sweet pastries.
Prior to opening Ti: Cafe Ta, Shom was employed as a graphic designer, with Shas working as a full-time stylist for the Canadian apparel brand Aritzia. Sash still bartends at Welton Room — a particularly visually-oriented member of the city’s growing cocktail cosmos. “I’m the big foodie of the family,” she grinned. “I learned the art and craft of drinks. I wanted to apply that to coffee.” The menu is built around the detailed slow-drip process that is the backbone of the brew from Saigon to South Federal, all served with an elegance that befits the sisters’ varied vocations. “The only Vietnamese coffee we had growing up was from my parents,” said Shas.
The sisters source the coffee from Vietnam, with the beans being roasted in Philidelphia before making their way into each rocket-fuel-like cup sold at the cafe. It can be enjoyed black, both hot and over ice, or as part of the cafe sua da (medium $6, large $6.50) — the classic preparation of coffee and condensed milk over ice. But it’s towards the bottom of the menu that folks can really start to see the Nguyens’ real finesse at work. The cafe trung ($7) adds a house-whipped egg topping and cacao powder to the mix, with the flan cafe sua da ($6.50) upping the ante with an even more conspicuous lid of fluffy flan. Rotating sodas — including the eye-catching lychee drink ($7), complete with house-made lychee whip and white chocolate-covered lychees — are built for the summer heat, and will be rotated out as part of the shop’s seasonal updates.
The pastries come by way of three local bakers, all of whom are also Asian women at the top of their craft. The banh pate chaud ($5) — a flaky pastry with pork filling — is the only thing made in-house, and sits towards the top of the list of unmissable offerings. Ornately decorated macarons ($3.75) come in pandan coconut, red bean, matcha red bean mochi and perhaps best of all, durian. Mooncakes ($5) are available year-round, coming in red bean, taro and pineapple.
Come fall, the sisters plan to introduce a monthly Pop-Up with Ba, a seated event highlighting homestyle dishes made on-site by their dad. While plenty of places fall into the trap of favoring style over substance or vice versa, it looks as if Ti: Cafe Ta may have found the sweet spot.
Ti: Cafe Ta is located at 30 North Broadway, Denver. It is open Monday – Thursday from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 11 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
All photography by Kori Hazel.