FOOD & DRINK

part 4 of 5
Best Italian Sodas
The Art of Coffee
1836 Blake St.

Coca-Cola may be the real thing, but it isn't the only thing. The Art of Coffee knows that, and instead serves up old-fashioned Italian sodas. Italian syrups such as boysenberry and coconut are combined with carbonated water on the spot, creating the most soul-quenching hot-weather drink going. You can make your own combinations from Art of Coffee's thirty flavors, or try one of theirs--the Creamsicle, with vanilla syrup, orange juice, half-and-half and ice, will make you feel as though you're standing right next to the ice-cream truck.

Best Classic Coffeehouse
Trident Booksellers, Inc.
940 Pearl St., Boulder

The concept of the coffeehouse/bookstore certainly is not a new one, and the Trident is not the first--or the last. But this bustling establishment--recently named one of the top ten coffeehouses in the country by Atlantic Monthly senior editor Corby Kummer (he's also the author of an upcoming book on coffee)--puts it together with deeply caffeinated panache. The espresso bar is always cooking, and there's often a line of the faithful, waiting patiently for lattes coaxed from the Trident's hissing machine. Inside, the talk is as dense as the coffee, smoke is rising, pages are being turned and journals are being kept--it's sort of a bohemian Grand Central Station.

Best Hard-to-Find Coffeehouse
Caffe Mars
1425 Pearl St., Boulder

If you go by the numbers, you might think you've missed Caffe Mars. The entrance to this cozy hangout is actually around the corner on 14th Street--in what looks like a vacant alley off the Pearl Street Mall. Once inside, though, you can't miss the ambience. Mars serves the requisite drinks and delicious pastries, while wiseacre college students provide entertaining banter. Check out the clippings and amusing snippets behind the counter that reference the cafe's namesake planet. It's not quite as remote as Mars, but it's definitely a trip.

Best Transformation of an Old Drugstore
Highland Grounds
3301 Tejon St.

From 1927 until the early Eighties, the building that now houses Highland Grounds was a drugstore and soda fountain. After a brief stint as a Mexican boot store--the building is owned by the Aguirre family, which runs RosaLinda's next door--Jamy Garcia and his wife, Shelly, rented the space. "We wanted to help revitalize the Highland neighborhood," Jamy says. Toward that end, the Garcias brought back the old soda-fountain booths, put in an espresso machine and filled an antique cigar humidor with baked goods. Checkers, books and newspapers round out the coffeehouse atmosphere, and the Garcias are in the process of recovering the old awning hardware to create an outdoor patio.

Best Coffeehouse in a Greenhouse
Center Greenhouse
9051 Harlan, Westminster

Until you've had your first cup of coffee in the morning, you're about as intelligent as the average houseplant. So get smart: While shopping at this huge, all-purpose nursery owned by the Yantorno family, nourish your roots at the in-house espresso bar.

Best Tea in a Coffeehouse
Jitters
1523 18th St.

Jitters, an Alaskan ode with Eskimo art, funky coffeehouse decor and a pair of plush old couches for post-ballgame relaxing, bears little resemblance to a veddy proper teahouse, and it serves all the expected shaky-hands espresso drinks. But for those who prefer their caffeine (or de-caffeine) in a more dilute yet gentrified form, Jitters offers more than a hundred varieties of tea, everything from your straightforward, aromatic blacks to restful herbals to flowery greens to comforting spiced Indian chai. An added plus: If it's an afternoon mocha you're craving, Jitters has eight types of chocolate to choose from.

Best Coffee Not in a Coffeehouse
Pizza Colore Cafe
1512 Larimer St.

They could get away with serving--gasp!--instant, since customers already full of fabulous pizza and pasta probably wouldn't notice. But for those who expect--and appreciate--consistent quality, Pizza Colore serves Italian D'Oro, the Italian gold distributed by Shamrock Foods. This coffee is two steps above regular restaurant fare, and one cup is enough to top off a flawless meal--or make a fine companion to the restaurant's tasty desserts.

Best Excuse for the Denver-Boulder Commute
The Espresso Lane
7790 Federal Blvd., Westminster

Sometimes the thought of this drive-through coffee joint at Federal and Highway 36 is the only thing that keeps us fueled in the mornings. Mocha, espresso, latte--the Espresso Lane has it all. And you don't even have to get out of your car to indulge. Drive, he said.

Best Thai Iced Coffee
Tommy's Oriental Food
3410 E. Colfax Ave.

The iced coffee at Tommy's, a mom-and-pop favorite, resembles nothing more than an old-fashioned milkshake with a nice kick. Thai iced coffee, unlike the Starbucks-ized American froth or the refined Vietnamese variety, is liquid dessert, well-equipped to cool the mouth during and after a tangle with a spicy Thai dish. Tall, icy and premixed with sweetened milk, Tommy's take on the beverage is an unpretentious joy. Thai iced tea is available, too.

Best Vietnamese Iced Coffee
New Saigon
630 S. Federal Blvd.

Maybe the iced coffee at New Saigon tastes better just because the food is so uniformly good. But we think it's more than that--much more. First, the coffee--delivered to the table as it should be, in its own, slow-dripping espresso pot--is deep, highly caffeinated and black. And second, there's never too much or too little of the sweetened milk it drips into. Once the coffee and milk are mixed and poured over ice, the brew turns the loveliest tan color. And how does it go down? Thickly, with a trace of rich espresso grit...and hand-in-hand with the chile oil you so recklessly spooned all over your food.

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