The List: 20 Awesome Coffee Shops in the West

When I moved to the West from the Midwest in 2002, I remember thinking, Wow, coffee sure seems a lot more important here. Since then, I’ve spent time in plenty of western places trying to hone my radar for cool coffee spots, especially in the past nine months, when I’ve been functionally homeless and bouncing around campgrounds and friends’ couches. Here are my favorites so far.

1. St. Mark’s Coffeehouse, Denver, Colorado
St. Mark’s is my home, my favorite coffee shop in the world. I’ve spent more time writing at the broken-granite tables there than any other place. While the drip coffee is not incredible, everything else is – cookies that are just piles of chocolate chips barely stuck together with dough, scones with Scarface-cocaine-size-piles of powdered sugar on top, the best people-watching in Denver, weather that allows for the big garage door up front to be open for two-thirds of the year, snarky notes from Eric, the owner, taped up all over the walls, and Gio, the barista who also created the G.I. Joe Stop Motion Film Festival.

2. Denver Bicycle Café, Denver, Colorado
Brand-new as of last November, I just started frequenting this place over the winter when I was back in town. Because: $2 bottomless French press coffee, served at the bar by watchful and friendly baristas who always know when you’re running low, good music and giant front windows looking out onto 17th Avenue. The DBC also does bike tune-ups and minor repairs.

3. The Bean Cycle, Fort Collins, Colorado
Bikes on the walls, the Matter Bookstore tucked in the back, and the single greatest coffee beverage I have ever drunk: The Kerouac, a pint of iced-coffee-and-venetian-cream amazingness served out of a beer tap behind the bar. There is nothing wrong with you if you order two Kerouacs consecutively. Except you might shake a little bit.

4. Kind Coffee, Estes Park, Colorado
Kind Coffee has thrived in a tiny town that’s dead in the winter, with a Starbucks not even a block away. They’ve even expanded in the last couple years, adding seating next door. After long days of climbing at Lumpy Ridge or ski touring in Rocky Mountain National Park, the organic coffee here is only $1 if you bring your own mug, and if you’re like me, you’ll pay $5 for the Kind Shake, a chocolate-and-espresso milkshake. Have a seat at one of the tables in front and ogle the topo maps of the Diamond on Longs Peak or the trail maps of RMNP, both laminated into the tabletops.

5. Nobrow, Salt Lake City, Utah
You wouldn’t mistake Salt Lake City for Seattle, unless your first experience was in Nobrow Coffee, in downtown SLC. The first time I stopped here, a three-piece string band was practicing in the front of the shop and two dachsunds patrolled the seating area, greeting everyone who came in.

6. The Mean Bean, Springdale, Utah
Zion National Park deserves to be more famous than it is, with its thousand-foot-high red sandstone canyon walls closing in above the Virgin River. So does the Mean Bean, the tiny coffeehouse in next-door Springdale where you can get a cup of real coffee and a wireless signal. Yes, they’re the only game in town, but they have good game. LINK

7. Pearl Street Bagel Shop, Jackson, Wyoming
There are not too many coffee spots to feel comfortable holing up for a few hours in Jackson – thankfully, there’s Pearl Street Bagel Shop, if your climbing trip to the Tetons gets derailed for a rain day and you need a place to get breakfast and hang. Build your own sandwich out of their fantastic bagels, grab a cup of coffee and take a seat in the front window.

8. Break Espresso, Missoula, Montana
Indie-haven Missoula got its first Starbucks in 2004, then it got its first downtown Starbucks in 2006, neighboring Break Espresso. The Break crushed Starbucks, and Starbucks shut its doors in 2009, as the Break expanded into an absolutely huge and wonderful space that is so big there are two wifi hotspots inside. LINK

9. Big City Coffee, Boise, Idaho
The baked goods at Big City Coffee are borderline ridiculous: scones the size of a pie plate, 4-inch by 4-inch brownies that are two inches tall. Order a $2 bottomless cup of coffee and you’ll be handed a 20-ounce latte mug – I like your style, Big City. Breakfast is served all day until close at 6 p.m., and the word is out about this place – every time I’ve been there, it’s been packed.

10. The Station, Seattle
Ah, Seattle. Epicenter of American coffee culture. Visit this city and folks will tell you to head to Victrola and Caffe Vivace for the best espresso. That’s great. The best coffee shop experience is at The Station, which is basically an extension of owner Luis Rodruiguez’s personality – all fun, all the time. Luis connects with every single person who walks in the door of his Beacon Hill storefront, alternately affably giving people shit and charming them. Oh, and the coffee is good, too. LINK

11. Bauhaus Books and Coffee, Seattle, Washington
Bauhaus is a classic Seattle spot on Capitol Hill, recommended to me by several folks, both for the coffee and the laid-back atmosphere. First time I came in here, I asked the barista: “What’s up with the Ding Dongs?” Which were individually wrapped in foil, stacked on a serving plate in the baked goods case. “They’re a dollar,” he said. “I know. Do you guys make them or something?” “No. They’re just Ding Dongs.”

12. Random Order, Portland, Oregon
I am aware that there are a million good coffee shops in Portland and probably half a dozen just on NE Alberta Street, but this is my favorite. Let me watch the rain fall outside from a window seat in Random Order, where they make badass espresso and write your name on the saucer under your cup, and I’m happy. And the pie is off the hook.

13. The Governor’s Cup Coffee Roasters, Salem, Oregon
No one talks much about Salem. Portlandia, yes, Bend, yes, Eugene, et cetera. But if you happen to be in Salem, and you’re an itinerant laptop traveler like myself, you’ll be excited to find The Governor’s Cup – in Salem since 1991, but reopened under new ownership in 2010. I think a good afternoon is when you can pound Americanos at one of the tables here while they roast coffee in the front of the shop, effectively letting you both drink and smoke coffee.

14. Acre Coffee, Petaluma, California
If you find yourself in Petaluma, Acre is the place. An open front window, wonderful northern California weather, a typewriter always at one of the tables, and the coffee is all French press, and strong. Brand new as of 2011, bringing a hip environment to this sleepy NorCal town.

15. Coffee Bar, Los Angeles, California
If you find yourself in downtown L.A. looking for a place to work, this is it. Coffee Bar is huge inside, has outdoor seating, and outlets everywhere, including one at each seat at the bar, and solid espresso (best in L.A., maybe?) New as of 2011.

16. Caffe Dulce, Los Angeles, California
Three words: Green Tea Donuts. This new spot in Little Tokyo has them, among other awesome baked goods that will give your pancreas a workout, and pourovers.

17. Sambalatte, Las Vegas, Nevada
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is one of the best all-around rock climbing destinations in America, if not the world. The nearest town, Las Vegas, is pretty much bankrupt of independent coffee shops. Sambalatte Torrefazione Caffè Lounge & Espresso Bar in Summerlin, however, has what you need. Standard single cup of coffee is a pourover for $2. Last time I was there, the lady sitting next to me told me about the book she was writing – about both her careers, as an exotic dancer and as a timeshare salesperson.

18. Rendezvous Coffee House and Martini Bar, Flagstaff, Arizona
If you’re in Flagstaff looking for coffee, everyone will tell you to go to Late For The Train for the spicy Fireman’s Mocha, but I like the big people-watching front windows at Rendezvous, nestled in the lobby of the Hotel Monte Vista. And the $1 Americanos and $2 French presses from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day.

19. Lola Coffee, Phoenix, Arizona
The Phoenix metropolitan area is a tough place to find good independent anything – the city sometimes seems like an endless grid of strip malls and pastel-walled red-roofed houses. But there are a few great places springing up. Lola Coffee is one of them, determined to make a home in the once-desolate downtown area. Good space, good coffee, good playlists at the 3rd Avenue location.

20. Cartel Coffee Lab, Tempe, Arizona
Cartel Coffee Lab on University feels like a secret when you open the door its nondescript strip mall near the Arizona State University campus – no tables outside, no real signage. Then when you walk in, you might think that you’re in for a snob-tastic coffee experience because the place is so hip, and there’s no drip coffee, only espresso, pourovers and the like – but the baristas are friendly, conversational, and oh, good at making good coffee. It’s roasted in the back of the shop, next to the hanging sculpture curtain of old bike wheels.

21. The coffee shop in your town that’s not on this list because I haven’t been there yet. Please add it in the comments. I like solid coffee, baked goods, wifi, cool people, outlets, and reasonably clean restrooms.
Photo by Steve Casimiro

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