Thursday, December 22, 2005

Merry Whateva!

Remember that kid in elementary school... the one who always threw up? The one who was most likely to cry when the math problems weren't going well, and had that weird plastic doohickey on his pencil to improve his handwriting?

Well, shut up... that kid was my best friend.

There was one time, right around the holidays (or, "Christmas" as they call it in Colorado Springs, where I grew up, you Godless heathens!), we were sitting in class when he suddenly leaned over from his desk (which was of course at the front of the room, where the teacher could always keep an eye on him) and he hurled, all over the floor. This was a regular enough occurrence for him that they didn't even bother to send him home. He just went to the nurse's office for an hour and they sent out the janitor to powder the offending mess with those magic pink fairy crystals that solidify the offending matter into a more manageable mess for cleaning up.

Later, at recess, he confided in me, "It was the egg nog... I just couldn't stop drinking it..."

I've managed to mostly stay clear of the stuff, ever since then. I'm fond of eggs - omelets, poached, hard boiled. I like the yolks, the whites... but the act of sipping an egg's nog always makes me think unfavorably of Rocky Balboa. And that consistency... Oh, poor ol' Ralphin' Rick.

When I was a barista, egg nog lattes were the new holiday novelty, which gave the double decaf skinny mocha crowd a respite from their usual order. I, of course, scowled accordingly at any philistine who actually ordered one. It wasn't simply the fact that it was one mutation further away from actually being coffee; there was also the issue that when you steamed the 'nog, it made this unholy sound, like Santa's magic reindeer during mating season.

But here I am, all grown up now, with children of my own, looking to make our own traditions. So I figure, what the hell, let's see what all the fa la la is about. And if you're gonna get an egg nog latte, I figure there's just one place to go... that mother ship of all caffeinated bastardizations... STARBUCKS! At the drive up window, my wife actually came right out and asked the girls whether it was going to be disgusting. One gave the corporate approved answer of "it's not something that I enjoy...", but the other one seemed sincerely to like the stuff. I got a grande in one of their festive red holiday cups. I was hoping for a cup w/ the Armistead Maupin quote, but at least I didn't get the one with that "Purpose Driven" clap-trap they had to put on to appease the zealots.

You know, it was okay. Vaguely like a flavored latte (of the amaretto/vanilla variety, not the peach/lime variety) with the sensation of stuffing my head into a bucket of nutmeg at the end. I mean, I couldn't actually finish it, I dumped the last third of it onto the street, for-all-my-dead-homies-style, but it was ok. Lower case "o", lower case "k".

Maybe I'm just feeling generous. Could it be that driving through Capitol Hill, looking at Christmas lights with my family, my 5 year old son and I belting out Depeche Mode's "But Not Tonight" has put me in, dare I say it, the Christmas Spirit?

So that's it, folks. Fox News can go ahead and close up shop... their imaginary "War on Xmas" is over. I won. You know why? Because it's mine... and if I choose to celebrate it with 80's new wave music and Hanukkah candles and pagan rituals and Kwanza drums, you can't take it away from me.

I hope that everybody, regardless of what they're celebrating (or not celebrating) feels just a little bit of this, too.

And wherever you are, Rick... try and pace yourself on The Stuff.

Monday, December 19, 2005


My love of all things coffee begins with Paris on the Platte. I was 17 years old, wearing a turtle neck and a bared... but I swear, it wasn't intentional. The beret was an accoutrement I used to cover my premature bald spot when my new wave combover wasn't working out.

We waited for half an hour for the train to pass in order to reach our destination; back then, that was the only way to get to the spot, which was tucked back in an uber industrial pocket of the city. It was there that I had my first cappuccino, poured from a big black pitcher that was left at the table to share with friends. I remember expecting the thick dollop of foam on top, powdered with cinnamon, to be sweeter than it was... Instead, it was scalding hot and dark and bitter and exactly as it should be... I fell instantly in love. The cavernous red brick club house was beyond my Shirley Feeney scarf dance-infested dreams.

The joint was my second home through my early 20's. The monolithic cement viaducts towering above the cafe were being torn down by then. Surreal remnants of the bridges, palates for graffiti artists, loomed above the Platte river like landing pads for UFO's on an intergalactic road trip. They were being removed to make way for urban expansion, the much lauded coming boom that would arrive with the baseball stadium. I remember staring up at them from Paris' front patio, thinking that Denver was being made. This, I thought, was the place to be.

Since then, between Paris and Union Station, the lazy train station which serves arrivals and departures to Chicago, Glenwood Springs, a couple of Ski Towns and pretty much nowhere else, there has sprouted "Riverfront Park", an entire prefab urban neighborhood where there was once just train tracks in disrepair. Housing starting from the one-millions, taylor made for a whole subset of urban dweller that the Mile High City didn't cater to until about 12 years ago, Denver not being a hip enough city for advertising executive types. My inner sci-fi geek can't help but love the squeaky clean, hyper-geometric, Logan's Run-esque design, even as I fear the microscopic nanotech robots that built it overnight. In the bottom floor is the obligatory coffee shop, a smaller-than-a-Starbucks but bigger than an indie joint who's design follows the motif... all flowing, dark red metal and cool cement. Comfortable in a take-off-your-jetpack-and-log-onto-your-laptop kind of way. If Riverfront was a ground-up ultra mod prefab out in one of the suburbs, Ink would be the kind of place that would serve only the tenants, who's homes are like storefronts in a high end shopping mall. As it is, the Riverfront complex is heavy traffic area, directly across from the Platte River trail and the state's largest free skate park.

And Paris on the Platte.

So there it is. That dichotomy, between the old and the new, between the past and the future, the comforting and reassuring vs. the human fascination with shiny objects.

My wife talked me down from my idea to do a month long "Supersize Me" style binge, taking all my calories from local coffeehouses. Instead, I've decided to review the food at these two well established but disparate joints.

I went with the family this weekend to Ink. The wife ordered the Tuscan Salad, and I got a large coffee with a shot of espresso, and swiped a couple of bites off her plate, much to her usual chagrin. The coffee at Ink is one of the best, most consistent cups you can get in town; that's true whether you're getting the drip or an espresso drink. The baristas are highly competent, and know how to pull an impeccable shot. The guys behind the counter are refreshingly humble, devoid of the cockiness that you find at some of the other shops in town. The girls are friendly without being flirty, with subtle peircings that let you know that, even though this is place is big business, it's not too big for it's britches, and realizes that even high end customers like getting served by the mildly freaky. The food here is a surprising anomaly, especially for an express espresso bar without a waitstaff. The Tuscan Salad is fantastic; freshly grilled chicken, artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers, with a dense piece of bread that makes the plate into a sort of deconstructed sandwich.

The atmosphere at Ink is also surpisingly diverse, giving the joint a more indie feel than you'd expect than if you just walked by outside. There's always a business meeting going on inside, bikers and rollerbladers who roll in from off the path, and tourists from all over the world checking out the towering bridge outside. On a visit over the summer, there was even a huge tribe of scooterists stopping for coffee before their ride, while an independent film was being shot out on the street, giving the place, and the surrounding area, an honest to G-d big city vibe. In the end, there's only one thing I would change, and that's the music. No, I don't expect to hear the Pixies or Portishead, necessarily, but something other than Billy Ocean et. al, would be nice. Note to Herbie... you can't go wrong w/ Jazz...

On Monday, I rode my bike over to Paris for lunch. Ah, Paris in the wintertime. I'd like to say that it never changes, but something just feels inherently wrong with going to POTP on a weekday afternoon. Where are the gutter punk kids setting the stir-sticks on fire, watching the plastic liquefy and drip into the ashtray? Where's the smell of cloves wafting though the with the smoke?

On the bright side, the music is exactly as it should be, which is to say, entirely random. Social Distortion mixes into Bob Dylan segues to OutKast. The coffee arrived quickly and was filled repeatedly, as soon as the cup was down to half full. So far, so good.

I went to the bathroom while waiting for my food; alas, some things never change... the ads for this place should read "Paris on the Platte... No Door On The Crapper Since 1986." I believe it to be some sort of systematic humiliation - the whippet thin employees don't produce solid waste, subsisting as they do on coffee and cigarettes, why should you be able to do so without any feelings of remorse?

Back at the table, I started in on my food. The grub at Paris is best described as "utilitarian". The sandwich was dry (a real trick, considering it was hummus, about the most damp sandwich ingredient there is) and was served with the kind of corn chips that you buy bulk from Sam's Club. It made me think of this 1960's educational film I saw on AVGEEKS.COM the other day, called "Coffeehouse Rendevous" where all the hip and cool kids got together and made coffee shops in their basements to keep them off the streets and out of trouble, where the food was whatever your mom wouldn't miss from the kitchen cubbard.

gee, beav, that funny cigarette you gave me makes me feel all goofy...

In the end, I'm not really saying anything that would surprise the "Parisians of the Platte"... they know their food's an afterthought. They know you're there for the music and the free refills. Just like I'm sure the folks behind the counter at Ink don't go home and listen to "Now That's What I Call Music '84", and would scoff at the idea of the bottomless cup.

But in the end, I'm happy they're both able to survive. I don't know if I could, without just a little of each.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Doing a little early morning surf here at work I came across this new product, a coffee/cola concoction to be introduced in 2006, courtesy of The Coca Cola corporation. I'm not sure whether or not Mad magazine is still around, but if it is, I imagine they'll get a lot of mileage out of "Coca Cola Bleeach!"

I don't imagine I'll be drinking much of it, after that initial bottle to satisfy my curiosity. It just doesn't seem like the kind of thing one sips while perusing the Westword, or gulps first thing in the morning to get the ol' bowels rumbling. I'm not really much of a soft drink person, either. As far as the Cola Wars are concerned, I'm Sweden. I had to declare neutrality in '85 when they brought Max Headrom and Michael J. Fox to go head to head for Coke and Pepsi, respectively. A fourteen year old kid just couldn't be expected to decide between those two media giants. And as much as I love my caffeine, I'm not a masochist. The caffeine content in cola is actually pretty low; your average soft drink is actually supplemented with caffeine that runs off coffee beans when they are being processed. When I used to work for Boyer's Coffee, the owner's prized possession was a meteorite-sized white crystal of pure, uncut caffeine, resembling nothing so much as some last remaining remnant of Krypton.

Apparently, this new product is similar to "Georgia", a canned coffee drink that Coca Cola distributes in Japan. Nifty design and all, but my guess is that Sweet Georgia isn't fit to starch "Hello, Boss's" shirt.

Sure, a new Coke product is just the sort of manipulative, calculated marketing ploy that an local coffee house lovin', indie entertainment appreciating guy like me is supposed to rant against, but I just can't help but get wrapped up in the hype. Maybe it's the fact that my father, sister and I all work in varying capacities in the advertising field; I've cultivated a life long fascination with brand loyalty and logo fetishism. Regardless of your feelings toward capitalism, an individual is defined as much by what brand breakfast cereal they eat as their religion. Resistance, as the Borg say, is Futile. Even if you tear all the labels from your clothes, that just says that much more about you.

So the question is, just who is it this product is being marketed to? That picture is kind of small, but I do believe that's an accent mark above the lower case "a"... surely the correct pronunciation isn't "Blake"? Is there some emerging Neo-Romantic poet subculture that they're trying to exploit? Does this mean we can look forward to "Lord Byron's Dew"?

This isn't the first time such a combination has been attempted. I remember tasting "Pepsi Kona", Kona being one of those holy grail varietals, along with Jamaica Blue Mountain, that a coffee lover gets from their relatives when they return from their vacation. It's supposed to be exquisite, but it actually taste like pee.

No doubt the drink is a response to Red Bull and Go Fast! energy drinks. But I have a theory that it'll be marketed more old-school, for the emo kids who are too cool for gym class and all that extreme sport stuff, caffeine being more accessible than exotic, herbal sounding ingredients like "taurine".

The last time the Coca Cola company made such a concerted effort to tap into the zeigeist was with OK soda. This was during the "clear" ara of such products as Zima and Crystal Pepsi, which tried to cut in, I guess, on the bottled water industry by offering a product that looked like water, without all those uncool health benefits.

OK was a full frontal assault on us disenfranchised ol' Generation X'ers. The taste was like a devil may care "Suicide" from our youth, but without all the fun of mixing and matching at the soda fountain of the Royal Fork Buffet. The backlash was palpable among the "alternative" kids. Why this was straw that broke the camel's back, when The Gap was selling de-sleeved flannel shirts, and a discount shoe store's advertising campaign for their knock off Doc Martens was "Doesn't it feel funky, doesn't it feel grungy, to Payless?", is beyond me. OK at least had built in street cred, with the cool design by "Ghost World" creator Daniel Clowes. If I had an old can, I'd put it up as cubicle flair right now.

The marketing for "Blak" doesn't appear to be quite as brazen, but I doubt it'll be around any longer than OK was. If anybody is taking bets, I'll put odds that Coke's new coffee drink will be off the Hell-Mart shelves by 07.

But maybe that's just my Generation X cynicism talking.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Take this, all of you, and drink it...

In the early half of the nineties, I went through an open mike, philosophy groupie neo-beatnik stage. I was in my 20's; a high-school dropout living in "the city". Grunge was in, and coffee houses didn't have a cover charge, so, hey, what else could I do? When you're a suburban expatriate white boy, it's like a mandatory transitional phase. Maybe even biological, like puberty or "the change". But for me, the whole boho thing never really took. For one, I'm not really a huge fan of "the Beats" as writers. I'm more of a William Gibson, Nick Hornby and X-Men comic book kind of guy.

Among the cats who made the scene for reasons other than cutting a striking profile wearing a turtleneck, the poetry could be pretty dismal. But there were always some colorful characters providing the entertainment, sort of like a support group meeting at the "Star Wars" cantina. I once saw this guy, Cameron Lightbulb, get completely naked on the "stage" at Cafe Euphrates, a table of girls not 2 feet away from him. Another time, Cameron attacked this guy on stage with a full size Safeway shopping cart he had rolled across town, screaming "Death to the Denver Poets!" The host, Henry Alarmclock (who's real name was Zack - there was a lot of name changing going around back then) had to physically throw him out of the establishment. Henry and Cameron were arch-nemesises, sort of like Mexican wrestlers.

I'm the gimp!

No, I'm the gimp!

Even though Henry's work was occasionally derivative of Jack Kerouac, et. al, he knew his influences well and was good at what he did. He was the real writer, and held respect among us posers; Cameron was just Bizzaro to his Superman.

FAST FORWARD a few years... Goatees are as common as Nikes and turtlenecks give me a double chin. I was married and a father, working in a cubicle and going through my pre-30's existential crisis. Real "why am I here" kind of stuff. The Big Questions (TM).

Now, I am a-religious by nature - as philosopher (Groucho) Marx said, "I would never join a club that would have me as a member." But somehow, I found my way to The First Church of Divine Science. Which, for the record, has nothing to do with Scientology, or Christian Science. I know, like they said in Angels in America... "Any religion that isn't at least 2,000 years old is a cult". But it was just a cool place to be around like-minded progressive types. Reverend Karl Kopp was a good natured guy, a playwrite who gave sermons about Jung and the mystical tradition and mythology and psychedelic drug use. At the end of the first Mass I ever went to, the organist played "Summer Lovin'" from Grease, then we all went to a common room for breakfast. Catholics tend to eat pancakes at such functions. Divine Scientists have tacos and spaghetti. And they served coffee, which was generally fresh and tasted good.

The other day I received a mailer from the church. They were having a memorial service for Karl Kopp. I found an obituary on the internet. Cancer. I read some info on his family... he has a son named "Zack".

The detective work I did on Google wasn't necessary. Seeing the two of them in my mind, 6 + feet, Coke bottle glasses... I already knew they were father and son.

Huh. Small world.

I stopped going to the church after only, like, 4 services. I've discovered there's no existential crisis that can't be fixed with the yoga of a good cruiser ride through downtown or a night out dancing. But the stuff that we talked about there, while it didn't form my worldview, certainly reinforced it. Just like those nights at the coffee shop did. And anybody who can get my agnostic ass into a church pew, well, that's certainly saying something.

So, this is my tribute to the Kopp boys. Cheers... I'll think of you whenever I drink my coffee or eat a taco.

Rest in Peace, Reverend.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Last week, like nearly everyone else in the city of Denver, I was laid out with the flu. If you're smart, you know that means coffee's off your diet for the foreseeable future. And if you DO live in Denver, you know there is only one hot liquid you should be ingesting... miso ginger soup from Taki's on Colfax. "Flu killer" boasts the awning outside, "best alternative to mom's noodle soup" reads the menu. So every day at lunch I drove and stood among the Capitol Hillbillies eating their more glamorous, exotic meals as I waited for the cloudy and fragrant healing elixir.

As much as I like the stuff, it was getting a little old by Friday, so I decided to see if I could find a worthwhile variation at the Asian market on Federal. I've killed whole days roaming the isles among the otherworldly fruits and vegetables and giant eyed cartoon characters decorating instant ramen bowls. Where else can you get a French-Vietnamese sandwich AND pick up a bundle of "Hell Dollars" so your dead ancestors can buy their way out of the more unsavory levels of the afterlife... all for under 5 bucks? Out by the street, from a card table, there was even a man selling vacuum cleaners w/ vaguely familiar sounding names. Who says Denver isn't a world class city?

Alas, I didn't find any soup. At least, none that weren't of the Vietnamese "Beef Chunks in Beef Stock" variety, which wasn't gonna cut it for my delicate tummy. I did, however, find a cornucopia of canned coffee confections, sealed in metals better suited for arming soldiers in Iraq. Beverages which appealed to both my love of bean juice and aforementioned adoration of Asian aesthetics.

So, with the help of Scooter Dad, and in spite of my ravaged digestive system, we sat down and drank six of the offerings because that's what I do - travel the city in search of new and exciting options for the caffeine addicted. And because I'm not very bright.


This drink is, at 6 oz., the smallest of the bunch, which is positively the best thing you can say about it. Some may try to convince you that it's due to the fact that the Taiwanese aren't the obese pigs that we 'Mericans are, but I think it's because the manufacturers know that, once you taste this swill, you're not gonna want another, so why waste product? Among the ingredients are "roasted and grinded" coffee, but "burnt" and possibly "humiliated" would be more appropriate adjectives.


Scooter Dad and I both agree that this isn't half bad, though the fact that it was basically cleansing our palates of the last drink may disqualify our responses. I've never been a mocha person, but this is okay. Until, that is, I read the can and see that no chocolate flavoring is listed, just the utilitarian "coffee, milk powder, sugar" listed on nearly all the rest of the beverages. It's too early, in my estimation, for caffeine paranoia to set in, but I begin to wonder what else is being snuck into these cans, if an ingredient as innocuous as cocoa isn't mentioned?


Okay, this lists "mocca powder" in it's ingredients, above "coffee powder", which is an understatement. In fact, one wouldn't think it possible that they could fit anything else in the unassuming little juice box after they melted in the 12 clearance sale Easter bunnies from Walgreens... but baby, they did! The nutrition information reads like PowerJuicer (TM) Jack Lelaane's grocery list, with all it's vitamins and minerals. And, as Scooter Dad pointed out, it has "stabilizers", presumably to stabilize your blood sugar, thus preventing unwanted comas.


Ever had those times you just can't decide between coffee and tea? Yeah, me neither, but this, kids, is what's called a rhetorical question, which is defined as a question not meant to have an answer. The makers of this beverage must not have known that, because they haphazardly put both of these often synonymous but never-to-be-used-in-the-same-receipe ingredients in one can. And boy, it tastes just like a lick from Satan's own sweet armpit. Seriously, if you just have to try this, you might want to stock up on some "hell dollars".


I did some extensive research on the internets to try and solve the age old philosophical riddle -which of these two beverages came first. But at the end, it really doesn't matter; what matters is that both characters, along with "The Dukes of Hazzard" Boss Hog, are rip offs of "The Candy-Man" from that Happy Days 2 parter where they staged Fonzie's death. But I digress. The taste: yup, there's definitely some coffee in there... and as such, these 2 are the clear winners, with The Boss nudging out Herr Brown due to size, giving you the most taste for your .69 cents (!)

We ended the experiment by mixing all of the above into one can, and I drank it (SD chickened out) The end result was not nearly as bad as one might have thought. In fact, it mostly just tasted like chocolate.

Huh. Stabalizers.


The following morning, I woke up looking like this...

and I now lactate Ultramilk.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Award for Best Use of a Coffee House in a Film Goes To...

Sunday night, my Dad and I went to Second Spin so he could pick up a copy of the John Candy / Dan Ackroyd classic "The Great Outdoors". It was a pretty specific mission, and we found the film right through the gate. However, we still managed to kill another hour perusing thru the boxes of assorted sci fi and cult classics, public domain jems bound together in box sets, some for under 10 bucks. We got to talking on the way home about the fact that so many of those films are more interesting to read about in books than they are to actually watch from beginning to end, but that every now and then you'll come across something that's actually entertaining beyond it's cheese or nostalgia factor.

Roger Corman's classic "A Bucket of Blood" is as watchable and timely for the cafe whore now as it was in 1959. It is, quite simply, the Citizen Kane of Killer Beatnick movies - a genre not as thin as one might imagine. The 50's and 60's were filled with morality play exploitation films about counter cultural threats to the white teenager's virginity. But Corman the man stood at the fringe of the fringe, and always displayed sympathy for the Hell's Angels, "Trip"sters and hippies who were the characters (and, as often as not, cast and crew) of his films.

The film begins with a tracking shot that would make Corman protege Marty Scorsese jealous, sweeping through the interior of the Yellow Door, an archetypal, cavernous cafe that I'd like to franchise and put in the carcass of Casa Bonita if that culinary institution ever shuts down. We hear a pome ("I will talk to you of art!") which, while not actually good, is certainly on par with the vast majority of "spoken word" that you'd hear at the Mercury on a Friday night. We meet waiter (yes, kids, coffee houses used to have waiters. Sort of like Paris on the Platte does. But men.) Walter Paisley (played by the actor who has made a career of playing characters by that name, Dick Miller). Walter is teased and kicked around by the hipsters at the shop, but still he grovels to their every whim, because he wants what anyone who ever worked at a coffee house wants, to be an artist. And to make time with the boho hottie hovering over her sketchpad.

Back at his studio apartment, in lieu of a blog, which wouldn't be available for another 40 years, Walter wrestles his creative pretensions onto an unwieldily mound of clay. True inspiration comes at last in the form of a mishap involving the landlady's pet, trapped in his wall. Just add clay and, voila! an early Paisley, from his impressionist period. Titled, appropriately enough, "Dead Cat".

Walter becomes a sensation the way everybody does in a local art scene; by making something and showing it to a public too chicken shit to point out that the emperor has no clothes. The demand for his work grows, and so too, does the body count.

Of course, this couldn't be a B-movie classic without the requisite amount of fromage, and here, too, the film delivers. The undercover cop looking to make a heroin bust really does look as ridiculous here as the parody/homage in "So I Married an Ax Murderer". And the chase scene at the end feels like a race to the finish before the camera runs out of film. (The ending is exactly the same as "Little Shop of Horrors", which was shot, like, 15 minutes after Bucket wrapped) The cast of Corman's movies were often supporting players in bigger films, where they were labeled "character actors". But, ultimately, this is an asset. One reason Corman's best films work is that life, like the best cafes, is filled with "characters". While the plot of the movie becomes more and more unlikely, the characters never fail to seem familiar.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


"You see, it should've been me, It could've been me. Everybody knows, Everybody says so"

Morrissey, "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful"

I have this awful habit. The acerbic wit and charm that I fancy myself as having in spades can occasionally turn bitter as a cup of Starbucks coffee. Morrissey captures it pretty well with his trademark unambiguous title above. But for me, it's not just about friends; everything from an internet story on the latest Indie Wunderkind in Hollywood to the story in the Westword last week about the 21 and 22 year old dropouts who are buying a high-profile night spot downtown can send me flailing into a vortex of self loathing, causing my bite and sarcasm to flare up like an allergic reaction.

It's a toxic habit, unbecoming and unproductive, and I should cease and desist right now. But I've brought it up, and let's face it... I wouldn't be doing my job as a writer if I didn't give an example of exactly what I'm talking about, right?

About eight years ago, I was working at the Diedrich's on 9th and Downing, trying hard to convince myself that the cool clientele and neighborhood feel meant that I wasn't really working for "The Man", even though Martin Diedrich is a rampant egomaniac who speaks his family name in the same hushed tones one uses for "Christ" or "Hitler", and may very well be the guy for whom the term "The Man" was coined. The Man. Plus, the tips were off the charts. I figured, hey, I'm making at least as much as anybody who owns their own independent joint, and the benefits are just as good. (Which is to say: nonexistent)

Into my bubble of delusion walked a slim hipped, sunken shouldered man my same age who struck up a friendly (though I would come to discover - loaded) conversation about coffee. He then invited me to a cupping, a friendly "taste off" between the big players in town... Starbucks, Diedrichs, Peaberry... and his own elixer, which he was roasting in his own home. He even had his own invitations.

And there it was, in glorious black and white, on a quarter sheet of paper. A photo of him, in front of a brick wall, sans shirt, with a doe-eyed look which seemed to moan, longingly "Please come see my band... our influences are U2 and Mr. Mister and we have feelings." Over the next few days I learned that my friends - baristas, bean jockeys, Italian Soda Jerks all - had received the same invite.

(Not to be a dick, of course. The above is just, you know, an example.)

But really, an invitation to your own party, with a picture of you on the front? It is pretty bad, right? See, I just can't tell anymore if I'm justifiably calling out a faux pas or if I'm just being jealous, seeing as that guy is now one of the owners of Kaladi Brothers Coffee, home of what is, hands down, the best cup of coffee in Colorado.

The storefront is unassuming enough, and matches the energy level of the nearby DU Campus, which makes Front Range Community College look like one of Playboy's "Top 25 Party Schools". The boy-ristas are all coffee-cocky know it all swagger, but I've never had a bad experience with the females who work there. Case in point is Heather, who was working when I went Sunday morning. She looks like Edward Scissorhands' cheerleader sister and gives the place the sort of street cred that usually only goes with a joint that's open past eight o'clock at night.

But where the shop REALLY shines is it's coffee, drip and espresso alike. I have never had a less

than perfect shot pulled from the kind of machine that Starbucks is afraid to use nowadays. And
speaking of machines, the shop has been known to feature a fetishitic display of espresso
makers, including the particularly pornographic display of mid 20th century art deco design currently alongside the menu.

So I admit it... I want his shop. I want his notoriety for serving such great coffee. I want his location so I can keep it open later. I want my disembodied brain to be placed in formaldehyde in the glass cylinder of that old espresso machine so I can rule my army of steam powered robots! I am small and petty and jealous.

But still, dude... keep your shirt on.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


One of my other obsessions, along with coffee, is Asian pop culture and fads. Though to clarify, I haven't watched any anime since "Tranzor Z" back in the 80's.

(I mean...

who didn't, right? Aphrodite A used those as missiles)

Rather, I think of myself as an amateur student of "existential sociology" a la Shinyu Yamazaki in William Gibson's San Francisco trilogy. Probing the collective unconscious of an entire culture. Asking, for instance "why does a package of, say, frozen fish cakes need to have a picture of a of a giant-eyed cartoon turtle on it? What does that tell us about Japanese consumers?"

Keeping all this in mind, I was thrilled when I first heard that Lollicup was coming to Denver, as I understood that "bubble tea" with floating mystery pellets was the next big thing "over there". I had to drag my skeptical wife kicking and screaming through the door. First time out, with all of the options available on the menu, she went with "Red Bean Slush". Needless to say, she wasn't exactly clamoring for another.

And it's not as though there isn't plenty else to choose from. Indeed, the adventurous, and people suffering from irreparable damage to their taste buds, could go to Lollicup every day for weeks before they went through every option... Green bean, sesame, avocado, and taro, a member of the potato family that I've never seen in any dish, much less in a Slurpee. Then there's the gummy "Bobas". I've never really seen anything that's adequately explained exactly what these are; I keep hearing that they're made from tapioca, but I've always understood tapioca as an emergent phenomenon which sometimes occurs in pudding, as opposed to a foodstuff in it's own right. I have heard that the name is taken from Korean slang for "nipple" so... there's that.

I talked my wife into going back a few months later to get my dose of big fat Japanese fashion magazine and irony, when a strange thing happened -- she discovered "Mo Cha" (green tea) slush. An occasional habit became a pregnancy craving, which in turn developed into a full blown addiction. Seriously, I was suprised the new baby didn't slither out on a wave of the gelatinous bobas, like when Han Solo sliced open that tauntaun in "Empire".

Now the fact of the matter is that ANY successful marriage is co-dependent by it's definition, regardless of what Dr. Phil tells you. Therefore, as an enabler, I occasionally forgo a visit to the coffeeshop in order for her to get her fix. Luckily, for me, Lollicup offers 2 slushy options for the caffeine addicted, the appropriately named "Coffee" and "Cappuccino". I like to mix it up between the 2. Because, well, frankly, I can't tell the difference. Any cold, Asian novelty coffee beverage has vaguely the same taste - robusta coffee, heavy cream and sugar. (Pick up a can of "Hey, Boss" at any Asian market for another example) Like Cappio. (Remember Cappio?) Which isn't to say it isn't good. It's kind of like how, after a night at the club, a cup of diner coffee at Pete's Kitchen easily trumps a venti anything from Starbucks.

How I see it, Lolicup has it right. Any slushy coffee beverage should be as unpretentious and unselfconscious as their drinks are. Yeah, I drink 'em sometimes, too, but it's a shake, people. I've decided if I ever own my own coffee shop, my frappe'd drink du jour will be a pretty close approximation to Lollicup's. I'll call it "FROZENATED COFFEE BEVERAGE!! (NOW, WITH BOBA!)", and I'll make whoever orders it say the full name. The "NOW, WITH BOBA!" Will appear on all the menus from the day my shop opens, until the end of the world, when anyone sitting in my joint can have whatever they want on me, to celebrate the "Left Behind" crowd finally leaving us alone.

Transmission from Caffeinator_X

I initially started this blog as a way to review local coffee shops, imagining myself as a caffeinated version of Jason Sheehan from Westword or Ricardo Baca, bar writer for the Denver Post. What I come to realize more and more as I schlep in and out of the various java joints throughout the city, and as I read other bloggers who have attempted the same mission, is that coffee shops can't be judged on the same technical "thumbs up / thumbs down" sort of criteria as a restaurant or watering hole. No matter how much credence one puts on quality of coffee, experience of barista, even aesthetic value of the art on the walls... what keeps a person coming back for their next fix is more subjective and intangible than that. Kind of like how even though you know "Citizen Kane" belongs at the top of any best movie list, you've seen, say, "Barry Gordy's The Last Dragon" starting Taimak about a hundred more times. ("Sho' Nuff!")

In short, what I've come to realize is that even though I love coffee shops, I don't even like most coffee shops. And that makes it kind of tough to be objective when you're reviewing a place who's owners decided on a whim "Hey, I've got an original, novel idea... Let's open one of those expresso shops all the kids like!".

So I dropped the ball, left the blog behind. Because, hey, nobody wants to read their favorite haunt getting bashed; it's like having someone pee on the altar at your church.

Then, last weekend, I went and got a cup of coffee at Kahladi's w/ fellow blogger and bean geek Troy ( who called bullshit on my protestations of why I haven't been writing. So what if I'm so broke right now that I can't even afford to spend the $2 to go to coffee shops to get something to write about? (for the record, this is true; he was buying) What about my love of coffee, and the culture that surrounds it?

Sure, there'll still be some reviews for the places that really knock me out. And I'll still give hell to the half assed, "why bother?" joints that raise my ire. But what this blog will really be about is that "subjective and intangible" that I mention above. Meditations on my ideal hangout... Sonnets and salutations to the beauties sitting on the patio... Pornographic descriptions of the line of a vintage espresso machine. Just observations from a coffee whore, a guy who's been on both sides of the counter, who's now sitting in the ratty old couch, watching the world out the window.

Monday, September 12, 2005


In the course of your daily life, have you ever crossed paths w/ someone on the street, or at a coffeehouse, or in a grocery store who looks sort of like you? To the degree that, if your eyes meet, there's a moment of vague recognition before you look in the opposite direction, pretending you didn't see each other at all? Because, really, what are you gonna say? "Dude, I totally look like you!"

When it happens to me, I always wonder if there's something more to it ... Like, maybe that guy doesn't just look like you, but he really is you, and what's happening is you're stealing a glimpse into some alternate universe. And in this parallel dimension it looks like you go to the gym a little more often, or married your high school sweetheart, or maybe you did every single thing just exactly the same, right up until you decided to spend a little more on the double ply. And I think, in that instant after I've crossed paths w/ my transdimensional doppleganger, maybe it's all for the best that I don't stop to strike up a conversation over a cuppa, lest the entire space/time continuum unravel by it's very super-strings.

At Pablo's on 6th ave, if the hipster chicks are off the clock, and the boy-ristas are behind the counter, that's exactly the feeling I get. They may not look like me, w/ their tattoos and aboriginal taste in jewelry; but had the proverbial butterfly halfway across the world given one more mighty flap of his wings, I'd be off the red pleather couch and back behind the counter, barist'in, brewin' and flirtin'... maybe even (dream of dreams) taming that firey steel beast in the corner, mastering the alchemy of coffee roasting.

I get these guys... but more importantly, since I can't remember the last time I've been pulled through an interdimensional vortex, they get it , that elusive "what it's supposed to be like" when you go to a coffee house. And perhaps more importantly for them, they get some; sure, they're a little grungy and un-kepmt, but they're smarter than you and they have better taste in music, as is evident in the soundtrack playing in the background as you sip the "Danger Monkey" which was brewed w/ more tender attention than you paid to your wife last time you had sex. Make no mistake, your average drink of tall skinny latte digs these guys.

I have a great wife and great kids - a pretty satisfying life. One of the things that makes it so is the fact that I can go to a place like Pablo's and without saying anything besides my order, feel a kismit w/ the folks manning the espresso machine that I don't get talking all day to the people that I work w/. If I have to work for the man, if the counter-cultural cuties HAVE to take a day off, these guys make the atmosphere in my present universe a-okay.

However, my life could be a little bit better if Pablo's offered some sort of coffee roaster fantasy camp.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Mo' Monkey

Just a postscript to my Monkey Bean review. I still love the place, but they do sometimes have a problem with consistency. I'm speaking particularly of the espresso drinks - the food and drip coffee is always terific. I don't know why, but for some reason, anytime I get a drink from a GUY that works there, there's always some glitch in the quality. (No, it's not just my fetish for girl-flavored baristas)

On a recent visit, the kid making my iced americano stuffed unweildly mounds of too-finely ground espresso into the porta-filter, insuring a 10 minutes wait for the bean-juice to drip like molasses through an I.V from the machine. The result was what I would imagine ground charcoal brickettes spiced w/ Marlboro Light ashes in cold water would taste like.

The place is just this side of a "write-me-a-poem-and-I'll-give-you-a-cup-of-coffee-because-that's-the-way-we-subvert-the-man" coffee shop; it's part of it's charm. But it's important that they always remember to keep on top of the training for the cheap labor from Urban Peak.

Gotta love the scene there, though.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005



Four TEENAGERS, 2 BOYS and 2 GIRLS sit at a patio table

I totally have a thing for guns...

Friday, September 02, 2005

More reviews to come...

The demands of day job and family life have been such that I haven't been able to lounge, lizard-like at my favorite haunts, much less visit new places to review. I hope to have some new postings by early next week. Particularly now that coffee is good for me.

In the meantime, I'm can't recommend enough the book I'm currently reading... "The Devil's Cup", which journals my favorite vice's humble beginings in Ethiopia to it's subsequent virus-like domination of Europe, to it's maltreatment in the states, "stewing" in roadside diners across the country -- to it's current redeption, which the author, a sort of bohemian Indiana Jones, begrudgingly attributes (at least in part) to Starbucks.

His round the world adventure makes the pre-ground, single pot, vacuumed packed Starbucks stewing in the breakroom that I'm drinking from my Pablo's travel mug (decorated w/ an Ink! Coffee sticker) seem that much more bland. Gotta hit some new java joints this weekend!

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Happiest Place on Earth

I had to pick up my father in law from the airport last night at 11:30 pm. The wife was apologetic for the late night errand but as she drives Number One Son to school in the morning, it all works out. The fact of the matter is, ever since I was a kid, a trip to the airport was like a mini, imaginary vacation, just being surrounded by all the comings and goings, I could pretend that I was on my way to the great "anywhere but here". Now that I've got two kids of my own, those fantasy excursions are that much more meaningful.

On the way, I decided I needed a cup - another fantasy excursion. I stopped by Monkey Bean, a small hole in the wall joint on S. Broadway, in an area where 5 years ago it would have been unheard of to put a coffee shop, and a couple of blocks East, it still would be. Monkey Bean reminds me of those late nights of my youth at pre-Starbucks domination coffee houses like Paris on the Platte and Muddy's, places that made me feel like, even though I was 20 minutes from my folks place in the 'burbs, I'd been somewhere. The decor of the place is like the apartment of that penniless bohemian friend who hung out on the fringes of your social circle, who nonetheless made his digs look like a million bucks. The mismatched furniture seen better days, just as coffeehouse furniture should be (I'm talking to you, Scooter Joe); it fits like a cocoon and is all part of the aesthetic.

But alas, in the Denver of my youth, this vibe at a coffeehouse came with a price. Too often one had to choose between an exemplary cup of coffee in the comfortable yet calculated deco atmosphere of a "Brio" (if you don't remember them, think "Ink", with the red hues bled from it's decor) , or the Boho Euphrates/Muddy's/Paris archetype. (to be fair, only Bauhaus Coffee in Seattle has delivered me the best of both worlds... And even that was perhaps due to my adoration of the Pacific Northwest in 1994).

Last night at "The Monkey" I asked what they were brewing. "Dark and Light", answered the attractive, spikey bleached coffeegirl.

"What's the dark?"

"(possessive Proper Noun) Blend"

"And what's in that?" I asked.

"It's the dark." she answered cheerfully, if confused.

I decided to go for if, if for no other reason than the fact that she was almost out, and I'd be waiting for just a few moments for a fresh pot. And a trip to a place like Monkey Bean is ALL about the atmosphere, I figured. Coffeegirl helpfully filled my cup with the remainder of the dark while I waited. Great, I figured, luke-warm, bottom-of-the-pot mystery brew. To my delight, I got four ounces of piping hot, suprisingly good brew to sip on while I waited for the equally good warm up.

(And the quality of the coffee's not an anomaly; the simple salads and sandwiches beat the old coffee house mystery-cheese platter, hands down. And the vacation feel isn't elitist or exclusive - my son can kill as much time playing the community board games as I can perusing the tattered paperbacks.)

As I sat, I noticed the crowd, specimen's preserved perfectly from my own all nite coffeehouse days... and one guy who really was a customer of mine, back when I was a barista. And though too much time has passed to attempt a catch up, and I needed to get moving to the airport, my heart warmed to the fact that I'm not the only aging Generation X'er who's not willing to give up the ghost of this singular kind of haunt; a perfect vacation spot for my whole family, or for just me, myself and I. A place that transports me not just to a different place, but time as well.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I am pretty serious about my coffee.

There are a lot of complicated factors to consider when you're going out for coffee. Quality of beans, skill of baristas, hotness of hipster coffee goddess driving the espresso machine; is this your morning cup or are you out at night? With a date or your tattered notebook? What day of the week is it ?(i.e., on a weekday, any "alternative" music which can't be heard on "alternative" radio is appropriate. Sunday morning, jazz or mellow ambient, and if you're unsure the mellowness of your ambient, stick w/ Jazz. ) I mix up where I go for my morning coffee a coupla times a month, just to stimulate the old noggin from thinking I'm an extra in "Groundhog Day". Some people define themselves by their hobbies ("Hobbies? I've got two kids!") Some by their job ("Uh... no.") . Me... I define myself by my vices - and I quit smoking 4 months ago.

This morning I decided I wanted iced coffee for my wake-me-up. No, I wanted good iced coffee, which is a little bit trickier. While I will begrudgingly cop to the fact I can stomach just about any coffee chain's sugary sweet Frozenated Coffee Beverage (TM), that's just not okay in the morning. And sure, I can trust any of my regular haunts to, at the very least, serve me up an appropriate iced americano, but that's not what I'm talking about. I could try someplace new, but there's no garauntee that I won't have refrigerated "Coffee of the (yester)Day" poured into my plastic glass. Hell, go to any area Diedrich's location, and that's the BEST you'll get; you could get HOT coffee poured on your ice. And if Herr Diedrich himself is there he'll tell that's the only "correct" way to make it (however it is that they're making it that day).

Then he'll blather incessantly about how he's decended from a pantheon from Germanic demigods.

But I digress; there are, in my experience, only a handful of java joints in the metro area which make iced coffee the way it should be served - with a Toddy coffee maker. One of those, Scooter Joe's, is spitting distance from my route to work. I was so excited at the prospect of the smooth, chocolate hinted taste that I didn't think twice when I missed my turn and had to drive around the block to get to the parking lot, even though I was already running a little late for work. And the coffee was most definitely worth it.

But it begs the question, and I for the life of me can't put my finger on the anwser... why don't I like Scooter Joe's MORE than I do?

Drive down Lincoln at night and you can't miss in the picture window, the lighting and color scheme give the scene a (pleasant) yellowing, antique feel, like an old photograph. A real urban vibe that the bars in town try to emulate, but are way too Aurora-attempting-to-be-Cherry-Creek glamorous to achieve (see "Funky Buddha" up the block).

Inside, I've never had a bad drink, and the Coffeegirls this morning (one whippit thin, tatoos peeking from behind the straps of her tank top, the other with shy eyes and that kind of unintentionally flirty smile which no doubt makes her the target of advances from hopeful guys who are nowhere near her league; both with dishevled, anti-grav hair) were/are everything a coffee slut like myself could ask for. And of course they've got the weekly rags and plenty of seating.

Maybe it's just too clean - it should be more living room and less sitting room. Or the furniture that's meant to look old, but you know cost a ton, that's been a coffee house cliche since "Friends" (I can think of 5 other places off the top of my head that are WAY worse about this than Joe's, though) Also, the way they push the "scooter" theme seems a little convoluted... if the owners and/or employees are enthusiasts, that's great - that vibe in and of itself should bring some clubs in. But Monkey Bean down Broadway has become a haven for motorcyclists without putting "Wheelie" in it's name or a Triumph on it's roof.

It's inviting enough, though, and the coffee and assorted drinks got it where it counts. Maybe once it's all more worn in, this won't just be a "run in and out" in the morning kind of place, but a "let's go meet for coffee" kind of place.

Okay, so I'm DEADLY serious about my coffee.