Huckleberry Roasters is a great place to start a weekly peek into Denver's café and craft coffee scene: it has modern design, three types of coffee pours (drip, pour over and AeroPress) and a "toast program," which is really just a menu of toast with jam, nut butters and honey options. So I was surprised to find that owners Koan Goedman and Mark Mann downplay the intricacies of the perfect small-batch coffee cup and are more focused on customer service.
I was less surprised after learning Goedman and Mann met over the coffee counter in 2006: Goedman was a barista at Aviano Coffee's former Lincoln Avenue location, where Mann was a regular customer. That's not to say coffee isn't important to them, but the beverage is more a means to the end at Huckleberry.
After bonding at Aviano over a shared love of the Shins, the two started roasting in Goedman's garage in 2011. Nine months later they moved to their first commercial location in the alcove of small businesses at 28th Avenue and Larimer Street, which currently includes a print shop, a barbershop and Our Mutual Friend Malt & Brew. Last December, Huckleberry moved the roaster to the Sunnyside neighborhood and opened its first café. A second Huckleberry opened in the 2500 Larimer project this March. Mann handles the business side of things -- finances, café management, design of the brand -- while Goedman tackles the coffee side -- selecting the beans, roasting, tasting.
The Atmosphere Mann and Goedman make it clear that they want their cafes to create connections like the one they found at Aviano. "We recognize that the café is a unique experience for people, and we wanted to be able to create a space for people to come meet with a friend and chat with their regular barista," says Goedman. "It's harder to find that today because people don't necessarily need those interactions. So much of our world takes place on our computer."
The RiNo location features a modern look, with a polished concrete bar, narrow tables, and pale wood paneling; another wooden bar faces Larimer Street. The crowd includes mainly the typical hipster crowd that haunts RiNo: Everyone was either working seriously at their Macs (with only a couple of PC sightings) or chatting with friends and baristas. Despite the modern, industrial construction (2500 Larimer was built from slavaged shipping containers), Huckleberry still brings to mind sitting in your family kitchen -- you do your own thing even while maintaining an awareness of everyone around you. Goedman and Mann knew everyone who walked in the door, and as high five greetings were exchanged, the baristas chatted with anyone Mann and Goedman didn't catch.
Beyond Coffee Huckleberry could become a habit: $5.50 buys a simple but delicious breakfast of coffee and a biscuit. If that seems a little pricey for breakfast, at least it's not a flavored latte that's mostly steamed milk for the same price. In addition to those biscuits (brought in from the Noshery along with a variety of pastries), Huckleberry's breakfast selection includes toast, with house-made nut butters, local jams and local honey, quiche, savory pockets, and yogurt with granola. If you're not into coffee, there's also Colorado Tea Company tea and Upstart kombucha.
The Buzz As Huckleberry's claim to fame is its customer service, inspired by the origin of Mann and Goedman's relationship, the slow pour coffee, typically used for its quality brewing process, has a different mission. "The hand brew stuff takes some time, so if waiting for a cup of coffee gives someone five or ten minutes to themselves before heading out to work or whatever is on their daily schedule, that's an awesome component to what is going to be an awesome cup of coffee," Goedman says. "We want people to have a quality interaction, and if alongside that they also have a dynamite cup of coffee, then we're doing our jobs."
The Roaster In chatting with a few coffee roasters, I have found that many have stories behind either their roasting machine (if they roast on their own) or the roaster they choose to brew and serve. For Mann and Goedman, the story behind their Giesen W15 is simple: bought brand new, the roaster is technologically advanced, says Goedman, allowing him more control over the scientific and creative roasting process.
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In a Nutshell Huckleberry Roasters is the place to find cozy company and maybe a business partner or two. And biscuits -- biscuits with honey. Did I mention biscuits?