When done right, coffeeshops foster community and improve infrastructure. When done poorly, they sharpen gentrification, dissolve a neighborhood’s history, and reek of pretentiousness. It’s a delicate, nuanced balance, and it’s also impossible to definitively rank their quality. This opinion doesn’t come from a place of elitism, but rather the acknowledgement of subjectivity - perception will always be fallible. Still, it’s valuable to employ a lens of critical thinking that holds them accountable for their impact. And so, the following is an even consideration of quality, location, ethics, and ambiance.
5) Pablo’s Coffee - any Denver location
Pablo’s Coffee plays a paternal role in Denver’s coffee scene. The shop has a venerable status around the city, and they distribute beans to several smaller businesses. A visit to Pablo’s is met with a wise, steady ambiance. This coffeeshop grew up and graduated college. It no longer needs pilgrimages to self discovery or any adolescent phases. Pablo’s Coffee knows who they are, and they help you figure it out too. The coffee exceeds all expectations: unique creations, reliable quality, and friendly service all make for a fantastic experience.
4) Thump Coffee, 1201 E 13th Ave, Denver, CO 80218
Although Thump may present a typical ambiance of neutral colors and hanging overhead lights, their coffee is simply the best in Denver. I have never had a latte that beat the one at this spot, and this is mostly credited to their technique. The milk is flawlessly textured and tempered, the coffee itself is a perfect balance of acidity and body, and they still manage to get their orders out incredibly efficiently.
3) Weathervane Cafe, 1725 E 17th Ave, Denver, CO 80218
Has your avant garde grandmother ever turned her house into a funky coffeeshop? If so, you’ll feel right at home at Weathervane Cafe. The name already eludes to something calm and contemplative, and the artisanal quality pairs well with the mood. My biggest recommendation off the menu is the mango melt (a delectable brie and ciabatta creation) paired with an orange and clove latte. The appeal of Weathervane Cafe is the promise that it will be unlike any coffeeshop you’ve ever been to. Lace doilies line the windows, archaic wood floors creak beneath your feel, and you feel right at home - because it looks exactly like one. An assortment of local honey and other handcrafted goods are also available for purchase. It’s anti-commercial and dedicated to standards of kindness and reliability.
2) St Mark’s Coffee House, 2019 E 17th Ave, Denver, CO 80206
The most conveniently located on this list, St Mark’s is certainly irreverent. The most enticing thing about it has got to be the gigantic, clunky garage windows that open on both sides of the building - coming and going feels natural. This joint is a paradoxical addition to this list, because the coffee is mediocre. Their espresso drinks are prepared with an imperceptibly shoddy technique, and their drip is notorious for being sour and muddy. But, what makes St Mark’s unbeatable is its powerful ambiance. A stunning homage to Michelangelo paints a sort of halo on the ceiling above the register, and the disjunct assortment of marbled tables and blueberry blue benches draw an eclectic crowd. Poets, antisocial chess players, acoustic band washups, and unsalted almond enthusiasts gather, seemingly incomprehensibly, but they are united by a call to creativity. Everyone who comes here wants to make something real, and I think that is infinitely more valuable than the quality of a medium roast.
1) Whittier Cafe, 1710 E 25th Ave, Denver, CO 80205
One of Denver’s most esteemed businesses, and a black owned one as well, Whittier cafe is the city’s only African espresso bar. It’s also the only truly ethical coffee shop I’ve experienced. It has long been a gathering place for those who lived in Five Points before it was gentrified, and recently moved residents who want to participate in the community proactively. Whittier Cafe serves imperative political issues with its lattes, which are of fantastic quality. Infographics on the Black Lives Matter movement and the Ethiopian Genocide are displayed throughout the cafe, and the bathroom is decorated with signs from protests. The ambiance is also unbeatable - warm, one of a kind paintings cover the walls, and a new artist does an installation every month. Whittier Cafe feels like home, regardless of where you come from.