Crema Coffee House is arguably one of the pioneers of the River North neighborhood. Owner Noah Price opened the hole in the wall cafe at Larimer and 29th streets five years ago. At the time, the the tiny space fit a dozen or so people comfortably; the rest of the building was rented out as studio space for artists.
Today, Crema is one of many hot spots on Larimer north of 25th Street, a stretch also includes The Populist -- co-owned by Price -- and the upcoming Finn's Manor, Price's food truck pod and cocktail bar.
The current Crema is barely recognizable from the original. The café, which now has a bakery and serves breakfast and lunch, has gradually taken over the building, growing intentionally into the studio space. Most recently the back patio was cleaned up and is now open to customers.
The Atmosphere Crema is where I got my introduction to Denver's "hipster" scene, when I was looking into Price's still-active weekly bike ride called Loops. Crema was small, cozy, and neighborly then, and as the café has expanded, it has maintained the original charm.
The coffee bar is now spacious, where before it was squeezed in tight. The front-facing bar seating lets you watch the cafe action, or you can get comfortable in the back room, where you can nestle into the corner for an extended stay despite the metal and wood seating and tables.
The front room includes a hodgepodge of folding chairs, mismatched tables and benches filled with customers engaged in their computers or socializing with friends. A second bar faces into the kitchen and big front windows let in natural light that makes the space brighter than the more sedate back room.
The Buzz Crema's original menu, printed on large sheets of unfinished plywood, now covers an entire wall. This repurposing of materials represents what Price is going for with the gradual expansion of the café: "We grew to fill a gap and a need," he explains, "but still wanted to hold true to keeping it simple and fresh and keep the quality up. It's the most important thing."
Price says that quality of food and coffee is what sets Crema apart from other cafes, and the baristas he hires are not just students looking for a temporary jobs but career baristas who take the work seriously. "The baristas here are doing this for a living," he says. "Where at most coffee shops the barista is transitory, we're trying to establish the professionalism."
The Roaster Price says Crema was one of the first cafes in Denver to offer coffee from multiple roasters, a practice that is still rare but growing in popularity. Crema showcases smaller roasters who wouldn't be able to supply enough coffee beans on their own to keep all the cups full at the cafe. "I started playing around with multiple roasters because each has their own style and taste profiles," he adds.
Crema generally offers coffee from five roasters at any time: There's the house espresso from Herkimer Coffee in Seattle, a guest espresso bean (usually from out of state), another that's used just for pour-over coffee, and one or two local products for French Press (Crema doesn't serve standard drip coffee). Local roasters include Boxcar, Huckleberry and Novo.
Beyond Coffee Crema's food menu was created by Jonathan Power, the executive chef and co-owner of the Populist. The idea behind the menu, says Price, is "to have fun. We don't want it to be too serious, but we want it to be fresh and healthy and use the best ingredients we can find," he says. Everything possible is made from scratch, he adds.
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Breakfast includes house made five-spice granola with Noosa yogurt, daily quiche specials and breakfast burritos; lunch gets an international touch in Moroccan meatballs, a pork belly banh mi and a Korean Reuben. And then there's the sweet potato waffle with candied walnuts, hazelnut whipped cream and maple syrup -- good at any time of day. For drinks beyond the coffee list, there's Kilogram tea and Happy Leaf kombucha on tap.