Sol Coffee, a mobile coffee bar based in Longmont, utilizes Colorado's abundant sunshine to power an espresso bar built onto the back of a 1979 Toyota Dolphin camper. The vehicle, purchased for $300 and outfitted by Andrew Michler and Darren Wurtzburg, gives coffee on the go a whole new meaning.
Wurtzburg and Michler met six years ago in Fort Collins at a coffee shop that Wurtzburg owned and operated. Michler, a blogger at the time, used the space as his office away from home. And although Wurtzburg admittedly was sometimes frustrated by customers who camped out for hours on computers, the two became friends. Faced with the challenges of running a brick-and-mortar business but with an ongoing a passion for coffee, they joined forces two and a half years ago to switch to a sustainable coffee business on wheels.
After purchasing the truck, Wurtzburg and Michler spent a year building it out, handling all of the work themselves. They gutted the interior, tuned up the engine and stripped the entire back of the truck. "We dropped [the floor] as low as we could to have that more direct experience of coffee," says Michler. "That was our aha moment, when we knew this wasn't going to be just a food truck."
Instead, they wanted to align themselves with the third wave of coffee. "It's very much about seeing how coffee is made and talking with the barista and being much more intimate," he adds.
For Michler, an architectural designer and writer who's lived off grid for several decades, it was easy to figure out the logistics of the build. In addition to a battery system inside the truck that charges every night, solar panels generate the rest of the energy needed. Enough energy is created between the two systems to run the truck for about twelve hours and serve several hundred people. Because the truck is autonomous, it runs without the noise and fumes typical of food trucks that run on gas-powered generators.
The owners also needed an energy-efficient espresso machine, which was difficult to track down, but they eventually found one that supplements its power with a propane burner.
Although the truck itself is not solar-powered, it clocks in at about 30 miles to the gallon because it can't go very fast — or far. In the spirit of keeping things local, Sol serves coffee from Mark's Specialty Roaster (also a Longmont company), milk from Royal Crest Dairy and tea from Sherpa Chai. Additionally, they attempt to prioritize sustainability by using products that are compostable when possible and recyclable when not.
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Michler's interest in hyper-local architecture — spaces that are not only stylish and contemporary, but evocative of the environment around them — greatly influenced the creation of the truck. From the side, the intention behind the design is evident; the zig-zag roof mimics the shape and color of the snowcapped Rocky Mountains.
The efforts of Michler and company haven't gone unnoticed. Sol was awarded national recognition from Architects Newspaper for Best of Design Award for Small Spaces for 2018, a competitive category that typically includes playgrounds and tiny apartments. The truck is also featured in the book Green Architecture Today.
By taking the third wave of coffee to the streets, Michler points out, "You don't have to go behind a brick-and-mortar environment to explore high-quality coffee."
Sol is taking a break until January 21, but after that, if you're craving coffee with a unique setup, the truck parks four days a week at Front Range Community College in Westminster and UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont. Visit the the Sol website for other locations.