High Fives, not Wi-fi, at Two Pablo's Coffee Cafes

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Walking into Pablo's Coffee cafe in the Alamo Placita neighborhood, you'll notice the noise: not that it's too loud, but it's louder than other cafes because everyone is talking -- to the baristas, to each other, and to strangers. There are a few people on computers or reading, but for the most part, the patrons are catching up with someone. That's what happens when you're in the rare cafe without wi-fi.

See also: Photos: Pablo's Coffee now pouring on Penn

"We have people that didn't know each other until they walked in here and now they are best friends. That's what a cafe should be," says Jason Cain, Pablo's "jack of all trades," adding that Pablo's doesn't really subscribe to typical titles. He's basically owner Craig Conner's right-hand man.

Pablo's opened in 1995 as a cafe in the Denver Performing Arts Complex and moved to its current location in 2001. Two years ago, Pablo's opened a second location in Capitol Hill. Cain says Pablo's doesn't have other plans for expansion, but that they had been wanting to move to Capitol Hill and jumped on the opportunity when it arose.

The Atmosphere Pablo's two cafes are distinct: The 6th Avenue spot is cozy and eclectic, with a collection of wooden two-tops crowded together in the front and a small lounge in the back, where red and gold wallpaper and a number of retro chandeliers give it a loungy vibe. The Capitol Hill cafe is simpler, with concrete floors, bare bulbs and three counters made from beautiful wood with teal accents. There are a few small tables, but there's a distinct impression that customers are just there to grab a coffee and go, unlike the original Pablo's.

Cain says the differences are intentional and that fitting into the specific community is more important than projecting a cafe brand. "We don't have aspirations to be a big global mega-chain, so we don't need a cookie cutter design," he explains. "That's not what we're going for. We want to have an honest and genuine interaction with the community."

And since both locations are free of wi-fi, he and Conner also hope community members put down the mobile devices in favor of genuine interaction. "Everybody comes in here eventually," adds Cain. "We're not a place that's for one particular archetype of person."

The Buzz Pablo's has been roasting its own coffee since 2001; the original roaster was inside the cafe but was moved to a warehouse about five years ago.

Pablo's roasts enough beans to supply the two coffee shops, plus fifty wholesale accounts, including City O' City and Whole Foods. Cain is amazed at the growth of the coffee industry since he started as a barista in 1995. "We've always been outsiders a little bit," he notes. "We come from a time when coffee was really a punk rock, counter-culture thing, but now it has become a luxury. I think we offer the luxury item with a bit of the counter-culture still there."

Pablo's group of twenty-plus dedicated baristas experiences low turnover -- a rarity in an industry known for employee churn -- which is one of the keys to establishing the café's community feel. Baristas should be able to look down the line of customers and know most, if not all, of the drinks each person will order, according to Cain. "If there's high turnover we can't do what we do here."

The Roaster Pablo's has two twenty-five pound roasters -- a San Franciscan and a Diedrich IR-12 -- run by fourteen-year Pablo's veteran roaster Jeremy Turner. The San Franciscan allows more control over the flavor and production, while the Diedrich IR-12 is a "work horse," notes Cain. "It can roast batch after batch, has a quick recovery time, and is super-consistent." Beyond Coffee Pablo's is coffee-centric, like all cafes that roast their own beans; but the chai concentrate is also made in-house by brewing a blend of teas with fresh ground spices, vanilla, honey and ginger over several hours.

Metropolitan teas, a selection of pastries from local bakeries and burritos from a local caterer are also served, and customers can pick up retail items like mugs, shirts, and of course, whole-bean coffee.

Pablo's will be celebrating twenty years in business this fall; Cain says to look for some "strange and wonderful events" when the anniversary arrives.

For Cafe Society:

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