Java, joe, coffee — no matter what we call it, coffee is an integral part of many people’s lives, and metro Denver is known for its craft coffee.
For craft coffee roasters, it’s all about the coffee bean — where it’s from, how it’s grown and how it’s roasted. They have created their roasting companies in the last 10 years, and they are passionate about providing the area with the perfect cup of coffee.
AJ Payne, general manager of Hunter Bay Coffee Roasters in Olde Town Arvada, likened the craft coffee industry to the craft beer industry, something the Front Range is known for.
“Breweries have popped up,” Payne said, “and I see the same thing happening with coffee. I think that you will see more and more smaller batch roasters in cafés (who are) roasting at least for their own cafés.”
Andy Sprenger, owner of Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters in Lakewood and Arvada, agreed.
“I’m super grateful to the craft beer industry for creating that space for independents to serve a higher-quality product,” he said. “I feel like they paved the way for craft coffee.”
He believes the metro area’s younger demographic is looking for something unique in its coffee.
“I think this is one of the ways Colorado is special. This part of the world attracts a bit of a younger crowd,” Sprenger explained. “Colorado really likes to focus on small, craft, higher quality products, and (people are) willing to pay for them.”
Scott Wilton, operations manager for Bivouac Coffee Roastery and Tasting Room in Evergreen, suggested that Colorado residents enjoy experiences.
“The reason people like craft beer and coffee is the experience with the product you get to enjoy,” he said.
Sprenger added that coffee has a way of allowing people to connect, especially when they linger with friends over a cup, which has paved the way for coffee-drinkers to become particular about the beverage.
“People have gotten picky about their coffee,” said René Steenvoorden, Bivouac’s owner. “There’s a lot of creativity in coffee. Every time you go to a coffee place, the way it is sourced, roasted and made — even the milk you use makes (the coffee) different. I think that makes it interesting and creates a market.”
Landon Harmon, owner of Bearded Man Coffee in Highlands Ranch, likened craft coffee-bean roasting to winemaking. The kind of grape, the elevation it is grown at and when it is harvested can change the taste of the wine just like the type of coffee bean, the elevation it’s grown at and when it is harvested.
“The exact same (coffee) plant grown at one elevation can be so vastly different than another (elevation) because of Mother Nature,” he said.
In addition, just as with craft beer brewing and winemaking, it’s important to have a variety of options for a variety of tastes, said Matt Kurgan, owner of Pangea Coffee Roasters in Golden.
“If somebody doesn’t like one coffee,” Kurgan said, “then variety is the key. Giving customers what they want is a tough thing because there are so many different people out there.”
Tracking the trends
Coffee, like beer, is constantly evolving, and these craft roasters are always looking for something new to keep coffee drinkers happy.
Sweet Bloom, for example, never envisioned online sales, which were necessitated by the pandemic if the roastery wanted to stay in business, Sprenger said.
“I do think that’s going to be something that will stick around,” Sprenger said. “People have learned to brew coffee at home, which means more whole-bean sales.”
Harmon added that the pandemic has made single-brew cups become even more important.
“Now with the single-serve pod, people can control exactly what they want to taste versus a bag of coffee,” Harmon said. “Once I sell you a bag of coffee, I lose control of the end result. With a single-serve pod, there’s more control.”
In addition, Kurgan explained that technology has improved, so roasters can keep data on the roasting process and the coffee-bean mixtures that make up the blends — ensuring consistency in the roasting process.
Payne believes coffee aficionados are moving away from the super-dark roast coffees toward lighter roasts because they are looking for more natural and robust coffee flavors.
“When you roast something very dark, you don’t get as much flavor,” Payne said.
He compared it to cooking a steak well done rather than medium-rare. People usually add sauces to make a well-done steak taste better.
“I order a medium-rare to medium steak because I like to taste the steak,” he said.
He also mentioned that cold-brew coffees are becoming more popular.
The roastery owners say drinking coffee is a regular part of their lives — between two and six cups a day plus tasting the roasts.
In fact, Sprenger says his biggest fear about COVID-19 is the possibility of losing his sense of taste, which is vital in the profession.
“I want to make sure the coffee is where we want it to be, especially when choosing new coffee,” Sprenger said. “Having taste buds firing on all cylinders is important.”
Harmon added: “If I enjoy (the coffee), I feel like I’m a good balance toward being overly snobby about my coffee and knowing what tastes really good.”