Snow is an essential component for any day spent on the slopes in Colorado’s high country. Caffeine, however, is key for taking that day from great to epic. And you could probably brew up a cup of ho-hum joe or grab an espresso from the nearest Starbucks, but with so many great craft coffee options to choose from in Colorado, why not treat yourself? Here’s how and where to get the best java hit the next time you hit the slopes.

The First-Thing-in-the-Morning Home Brew

Front Rangers heading to most major ski resorts have only one thing that stands between them and the pursuit of powder: I-stinking-70. Maintain your cool even in the face of rage-inducing, stand-still traffic with a pre-drive cup of Peak State’s Stress Less Dark Roast. The Boulder-based coffee company’s brews are infused with a daily dose of healthy functional mushrooms, but its Sumatra features Reishi, which, like other adaptogens, “helps the body to balance the effects of stress,” says owner Danny Walsh. Pairing the Reishi with a slightly less-caffeinated dark roast “creates an energizing but less jittery cup,” he adds.

Also noteworthy: Peak State sources only sustainably grown (regenerative organic) coffee beans, so “it’s both clean and environmentally friendly,” Walsh says. Pair that with the company’s compostable coffee bag and commitment to 1% for the Planet, and Peak State is a coffee snow enthusiasts can feel good about drinking.

The Pre-I-70 Coffee Hit

Sure, Denver’s Blue Sparrow Coffee was named one of the best coffee shops in the nation by Food & Wine. Powder hounds, however, will care more that their doors open at 6:30 a.m. “We are one of the only local specialty coffee shops actually open early enough where you can grab a cup of coffee and still beat traffic,” says owner Jeffrey Knott, who also gets in an impressive 30-plus ski days a season. “You can just pull right up out front, grab a coffee, and be on the road.”

The craft coffee shop is known for bringing in beans from all over the world with its “featured roaster” program and has also long been committed to treating its employees well as evidenced by a $12.85 per hour plus tips wage, which went into effect in January 2020—two years ahead of the city of Denver’s minimum wage increase mandate.

What to order when you stop in? You can’t go wrong with Blue Sparrow’s Sträva espresso, and its house-made matcha latte uses an organic Japanese matcha that might just be the best out there. Knott, though, keeps it simple: “I just get a large drip coffee, [with] extra room so I don’t spill it on the car ride up.”

For the No-Coffee-Shop-in-Sight Backcountry Expedition

Heading off the beaten path is no reason to settle for bad coffee. Enter the handy instant coffee packets from Boulder’s Alpine Start. “Convenience, portability, and ease are great, but number one for us is to make products that people want to drink—and that they look forward to drinking,” says Andrea Szekely, the company’s sales operations manager. “We’ll be the best cup of coffee you can bring with you, and it will be the easiest to make.”

We suggest toting along your Lite+ backpacking stove from Louisville-based Primus for a steamy cup to warm freezing fingers, but no worries if you’re short on space. Many of Alpine Start’s blends (including its won’t-believe-it’s-not-fresh-brewed Original Blend Medium Roast) can be brewed cold. “Just mix and stir are pretty much the only instructions we have,” Szekely says.

Liftee Bump from Coffee and Tea Market. Photo courtesy of Coffee and Tea Market
Liftee Bump from Coffee and Tea Market. Photo courtesy of Coffee and Tea Market

For the Early Après-Ski Fix in Winter Park

You got up early enough to catch first chair and spent all day charging hard on the steeps of Vasquez Cirque and the bumps of Mary Jane. “Lunch” (if you can call it that) was a rock-hard Kind bar gobbled down on the Super Gauge Express between tree runs. Now it’s 2:45 p.m. and your eyelids are drooping. Your stomach? It’s grumbling louder than your grandpa when he misplaces his glasses. But you’re in luck.

Open once again after a temporary, pandemic-induced closure and under new ownership, the 40-year-old Coffee and Tea Market in Winter Park’s base area has both your caffeine and food fixes on hand. Co-owner Laura Gray recommends the Liftee Bump, a half hot chocolate, half coffee (from Denver’s Novo Coffee) fusion with a shot of espresso for an extra kick. To eat, go with the homemade steak and mushroom stout handheld meat pie, a new addition to the menu inspired by Gray and husband/co-owner Skylr Olson’s four-month stint in New Zealand. Then make your way out to the balcony to get your après on. “The location is prime,” Gray says. “You can sit there on the balcony and watch the last hour of skiers falling down Lower Hughes, the run right outside our door.”

Read more about the Denver metro area’s best coffee shops >>