Crema Coffee, Denver CO

I hadn’t been into Crema for a few weeks when I finally stopped back in last week. I should go more often: Crema is one of my favorites. There didn’t used to be much in the way of quality coffee on the Front Range, and Crema was one of the first places in Denver doing a great job with quality coffee. 

When I walked through the door, I was surprised to see the trademark plywood wall with the menu on it gone. They knocked out the wall and expanded back, which adds some welcome elbow room and some more seating. Fortunately, the addition doesn’t really change the feel of the place. It’s still all about the coffee, and feels a bit hip-grungy in a good way.

As far as I can tell, Crema was the first in Denver to do a second rotating espresso, which is a tradition that I love. You can try a cycle of different roasters this way, and compare different tastes from around the country. They always have Herkimer as their regular espresso, and rotate through Intelligensia, Counter Culture, Victrola, Dogwood, Novo and others on the 2nd.

They have French Press single origins, and with the extra room, they’ve also added a V60 pour-over bar as well. Like the espresso, it’s a rotating selection from different roasters.

There’s a food angle here also that I haven’t delved into too much – I always go for the coffee. But, I’ve seen some tasty looking things coming out of the kitchen. Some of that goes to the coffee side as well: they make their own vanilla and chocolate syrups. My wife had an outstanding mocha with their home-made chocolate syrup. And, the vanilla gets a big thumbs up from my 6-year-old. I suspect he’s as picky about his steamed milks as I am about my coffee.

So, when I went in last week and tried their latest rotating espresso, and saw the addition, I was initially worried that Crema’s vibe and quality might be undermined. By the end of my Cortado and a fun coffee conversation with the Barista though, I was re-assured. It’s the same old Crema, just with a bit more room.

Metropolis Coffee, Denver CO

I find it amazing how different various coffee shops feel. On the surface, they’re all the same: they all have an espresso machine, seating, cream and napkin station, etc. But, every single one has its own character and feel. Some I walk into and want to turn around immediately. Some I walk into and am immediately at home in.

Metropolis in lower Highlands is one of those places that for some almost intangible reason just has a great feel to me. It’s very cleanly designed, but with warm wood tones and great coffee-related decorations.

I’m a sucker for all-things coffee, so the old retired Mazzer grinders as decoration on one wall, and the selection of various pour overs methods on the other reels me in. I enjoyed thumbing through coffee-industry magazines while drinking my Cortado. I’m probably only one of a few people that would even care about this, but I love that they feature their water filtration system: it’s in a picture frame on the wall.

But, really, for me it’s about the coffee, and Metropolis delivers. They have a Synesso and Chemex pour over, and do an excellent job with their chosen roaster: Herkimer from Seattle. Herkimer does quality coffee very well, in my opinion. Shockingly, on a recent trip, their decaf espresso was bursting with fruit and chocolate notes. In fact, I’d say that my wife’s decaf Cortado was more interesting and complex than my regular Cortado. That doesn’t happen: decaf espresso is extremely difficult to do well. So, big kudos to both Herkimer and Metropolis for presenting an outstanding decaf espresso.

I didn’t get much detailed commentary, but my son’s vanilla steamed milk disappeared in near-record time. And, usually, any commentary from him isn’t a good thing.

Metropolis also has a Golden Triangle location with a different (but also great) feel, and the same excellent coffee. I’d suggest stopping by and taking in the great atmosphere and coffee any chance you get.

Little Owl Coffee, Denver CO

Little Owl Coffee is a great new coffee shop in LoDo. They’re packed into a small space with only a few seats inside, and some nice patio seating. But, what they’re doing is anything but small.

The space feels great inside – don’t be dissuaded by the small size. They serve Counter Culture for espresso, pour-over and aeropress. They have a La Marzocco Strada for espresso, which in my book is right up there with a Synesso Hyrda as the current two top machines for espresso. I’ll stop myself before I drone on about the relative merits of pressure profiling and temperature stability, but suffice it to say that among the recent espressos I like the most, they seem to be coming out of these two machines.

I stopped in there with my family a few weekends ago, and everything was excellent: Cortado, decaf Cortado, decaf Latte and a kid’s vanilla steamed milk. And, despite us coming in right before they were closing, they were outgoing and friendly and went out of their way to make us feel welcome and not rushed.

On their menu, they list their espresso drinks and also list out the amount of espresso and milk in each one. For example, an espresso is listed as 2/0 espresso/milk, a Cortado as 2/2, a Cappucino as 2/4 and a Latte as 2/10. I’ve never seen a shop do this before, and I love it.

So, I’d recommend taking the time to find Little Owl in LoDo, the latest addition to the excellent Denver coffee scene.

Cortado

The Cortado is my favorite espresso drink. For me, it captures all that I love about drinking espresso, and does so elegantly and succinctly.

It could be because I made up the drink. Well, at least at one time I thought I did. Back when Flying Five Coffee was in it’s hey-day and I was spending a lot of time experimenting with different espresso drinks, I found that the drink I loved the most was a ratio of 1:1 espresso to micro-foamed milk. I’d never seen that before.

But, of course there is nothing new under the sun, and soon after I heard of this drink floating around San Francisco called a “Gilbraltar”, named after the rocks glass it was served in. And, later still, I learned that a Cortado has been around for quite some time.

What makes a Cortado so great? For me, it’s a combination of many factors. The 1:1 ratio creates a pleasing balance between espresso and milk. The sweetness of the milk can bring out flavor notes in a great espresso that you wouldn’t taste in a straight espresso. But, there isn’t so much milk that it overpowers the espresso. And, finally, I love that there’s nowhere to hide for the espresso: greatness and defects in the espresso are front and center.

Many times a Cortado is an “insider” drink. It’s not always on the menu, and it can be tough to find. But, often times, if you ask for it, good baristas will know what it is, or be able to make it with a description of the 1:1 ratio. Happily, in the last few years around Denver and Boulder, the Cortado has shown up on the menu of many good shops.

So, for me, my go-to espresso drink is a Cortado, it’s my hands-down favorite. After all, I invented it. At least I thought I did.

European Roasted Coffee

[Originally from the Flying Five Coffee blog from 2004-2009]

I’ve seen some offers and coffee shops bragging that their coffee is roasted in Europe, and then shipped here to the US. They typically claim that this is a good thing, since everyone knows that the coffee in Europe is good stuff.

But, if you accept the fact that coffee tastes its best when it is just a week or two out of the roaster, it’s difficult to agree that “European Roasted” can result in coffee at its best. Well, that’s not entirely true, if I were in Europe, I’d definitely want European Roasted coffee.

You want coffee roasted close to you so that you get it as quickly as possible. In one sense, coffee is about two places: where the beans were grown, and where the beans were roasted. The resulting taste forms a link between the cup that you drink, the roaster, and the people who grew and picked the beans.

So, the next time you see “European Roasted”, ask yourself one question: when was this coffee roasted? Unfortunately, it would be very difficult for “European Roasted” beans to be fresh.

Taste The Bean

[Originally from the Flying Five Coffee blog from 2004-2009]

Here at Flying 5 Coffee, you’ll see many more single origin coffees than blends — ie, coffees composed of only one type of bean. That’s because of our “Taste The Bean” philosophy. In short, we love tasting what the world’s coffees have to offer on their own. We love connecting what we’re drinking with where it came from, where it was grown and how it was picked and handled.

The people in the wine world call this “terroir”, which roughly translated means “from the soil.” They mean that a particular wine’s taste comes from where the grapes were grown, what the soil is like, what the climate is like, and how they are handled when they are picked. Coffee is the same way — all the same factors contribute to how coffee tastes.

So, we like to let the beans speak for themselves for the most part. That way, if you’re having a cup of Brazil, you can connect to that South American country in a way you couldn’t if we called it “House Blend.” Or, if you’re drinking an Ethiopian Sidamo, you can think about the legend of a goat herder’s dancing goats discovering coffee in the first place.

That’s not to say that we don’t have any blends — we do. Even when we blend different coffees to create a new taste though, we’ll tell you what’s in the blend so can still “Taste the Bean.

Blends

[Originally from the Flying Five Coffee blog from 2004-2009]

One thing that has always bothered me is when you see a coffee and it says “house blend” or something like that, and doesn’t say what coffee beans are in there. I want to know what’s in my cup!

To me, it seems a bit like ordering “white wine” — you have no idea what you’re going to get, and you’re a bit worried how good it’s going to be. Ordering a Chardonnay is usually a better bet. Did you ever notice that even a white “table wine” will tell you what grapes went into it on the label?

At Flying 5 Coffee, we believe you have a right to know what’s in your cup, so in every blend we offer, we let you know what beans are in there. Besides, it’s much more fun connecting what you’re drinking with where it came from.

Open Bins Of Beans

[Originally from the Flying Five Coffee blog from 2004-2009]

It seems to be fairly popular along the front range for coffee shops and supermarkets to have roasted coffee bean bins where shoppers can scoop out their coffee and bag it themselves. It”s a nice experience: you can directly see the beans you”re buying, and even sometimes smell the beans when you scoop them out. Plus, rows of coffee beans are look good.

The only trouble is the taste.

While these open air bins are romantic, they can”t provide the best tasting beans. The trouble is oxygen – when beans are in direct contact with oxygen, that enables the primary staling reaction for coffee. So, when people open the bins to scoop out coffee, a fresh set of oxygen is let into the bin so that more staling can occur. I”ve done side-by-side tests and can taste this staling in only a day or so.

So, to get the best taste, always buy your coffee in pre-packaged bags that were packaged immediately after roasting. And, of course, also know when they were roasted so that you know when you”re getting fresh coffee!