The Beginner's Guide to Denver's Exploding Craft Coffee Scene

Where to drink coffee now, which beans to buy, how to make a better cup of joe at home, and everything else you need to know to enjoy coffee in the Mile High City.

December 2015

Photography by Aaron Colussi

For years, millions of Americans have considered coffee little more than a vehicle to deliver caffeine to the body, a morning jolt scooped from either a red can or a blue can. But there’s far more to coffee than caffeine. During the past decade, java has evolved from a universal stimulant to an obsession among foodies and craft-culture fanatics. These days, the difference between a cup of Folgers and coffee from a good roaster is something like the difference between the Filet-O-Fish at McDonald’s and the catch of the day at Sushi Den. And perhaps nowhere has this evolution been more evident in recent years than in Denver. “It’s definitely a very exciting time,” says Jake Brodsky, who in 2002 co-founded Novo Coffee, one of Denver’s early craft coffee roasters. “The attention to higher-quality coffee is a lot more common than it was three years ago or five years ago or 10 years ago.”

It’s not that the Mile High City didn’t have a coffee scene a decade ago. It just looked a lot different: a handful of independent coffeehouses and a whole lot of Starbucks. Today, indie roasters and shops are quickly becoming as ubiquitous as that Seattle-born chain and have appeared by the dozens in neighborhoods from RiNo to Stapleton. “The community has grown a lot,” says Phil Goodlaxson, owner of Denver’s Corvus Coffee Roasters. “We’re starting to reach a bit of maturity.”

Many Denver roasters attribute the recent growth of the specialty coffee market in the city (in part) to Denver’s thriving craft beer and culinary scenes. Co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Craft Coffee Alliance Christopher Schooley says Denverites have become accustomed to getting—and paying for—quality. “Because of beer, there’s an educated consumer who understands that you’re not just paying a premium for a brand,” Schooley says. To put it simply, explains Jason Farrar, co-founder of Denver’s Commonwealth Coffee, consumers are driving the market. “We can be as specialized as we want, but if no one wants to buy it, it’ll fail.”

Despite the recent growth, roasters say there’s plenty of room left for Denver’s coffee industry to expand. Says Brodsky: “There are still a ton of neighborhoods that could use something besides a Starbucks.” With the city’s coffee scene just getting started, now is the right time to educate yourself on the basics of Denver’s next culinary movement: craft coffee.

Table of Contents

Page 2
What is a Coffee Bean?
Flavorful Grounds: Coffee From Around The World

Page 3
Language Barrier: Decoding A Bag Of Coffee Beans

Page 4
How to Brew Better Coffee at Home
Barista Confessions
The Bitter Truth: Three Coffee Myths Explained

Page 5
Roasted: Questions For Five Colorado Coffee Roasters

Page 6
Unleaded: Essay: A Decaf Drinker Sounds Off
Bad Coffee Taste Test

Page 7
Shop Talk: Eight Mile High Coffee Shops For Any Occasion 

Page 8
The Glossary