I was driving down 13th Avenue approaching Broadway when I saw a giant coffee cup on top of a tiny, old Volkswagen Beetle, so I immediately flipped around the block, parked and nearly ran to see what this coffee car was all about.
Sure enough, there was a man sitting in the car, serving pour-over coffee and espresso. Matthew Pendleton was the barista in the Bug; he got the idea while traveling in Thailand a couple of years ago, where he saw something similar on New Year's Day and took it as a sign to come back to the States and start up his own traveling coffee car. His mobile coffee-car business is called On the Road Coffee Co.
What’s refreshing about Pendleton is that he has absolutely no experience in coffee. He’s an artist and works at a record store. He’s really just a guy making coffee. No attitude. No expectations. While I’m the first to admit I go out of my way, even across the country, to visit craft coffee shops, the genuine simplicity of this operation lit up my day.
His setup — aside from the fact that it's in a vintage German automobile — is unassuming; in the back of the car lives a little power box that runs an electric kettle for boiling water. Hot water and ground coffee is all he needs for pour-over cups, and he also pulls shots using a manual British Rok espresso machine. Beans come from Denver's own Huckleberry Roasters, and dairy comes in the form of those tiny creamer containers ( just like the ones I recently used in the dining car of a train from Portland to Seattle — where I was headed to drink coffee).
When I asked how he learned to make coffee, he says a lot of trial and error and YouTube. I had to see the manual machine in action, so I ordered an espresso. There is just barely enough room for Pendleton to operate in the tiny car, but he seems to have a system down, and within a matter of a few minutes, he handed me my shots, straight up, in a tiny paper to-go cup. When I asked if he would park outside my apartment building, he laughed and said he gets that a lot. I don’t think he realized I was pretty serious.
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Regardless of the grind or the pour method or all of the dozens of variables that can make a difference in your cup, Matthew was a pleasant reminder that while Denver is doing some pretty cool things in coffee right now, you don’t need white subway tile, concrete counters and branded mugs to make people coffee and make people happy.
On the Road Coffee has been in business since May. Follow Matthew’s Instagram page, @ontheroadcoffeebug, to see where he will be popping up; he serves coffee Monday through Saturday (usually).