Loyal Coffee Raises the Bar

    Six baristas band together to add an exciting dimension to the local coffee scene, and their love for the beans and the Springs runs deep.

    loyal coffee cup
    Photo courtesy Loyal Coffee

    Loyal Coffee will not only continue the transformation of southeast downtown when it opens next to Blue Dot Place, but continue to drive an impressive coffee scene in the Springs. The opening is scheduled for Sept. 12, and there’s no doubt about the star power behind the place. [Editor’s note: Loyal Coffee opened Sept. 12 with a Grand Opening celebration on Oct. 1.] Loyal is co-owned by six baristas, including three known from the Principal’s Office: Tyler Hill,  who finished fourth in the U.S. Barista Championship Western Conference, Seth Fuller and Eric Nicol. Bevin Cammell of Switchback will be roasting with Fuller, with Christopher Mueller and Abigail Baum of Wild Goose completing the sextet.

    “It’s going to be one of the coolest things [Colorado Springs] has ever seen,” Hill says in an interview with the Report. “We love this city man, we love it to death. And it’s called Loyal — like, I’ve been asked to open a coffee shop in 11 different states in America, and I’ve chosen to stay here because I love this city. It’s no different with Eric, and it’s no different with Bevin; no different with Seth. We could all be somewhere else, but we’ve chosen to stay here because we love it, and that’s why we’re collaborating together so we can make it happen.”

    Combine their talents with the powerful design of Ryan Lloyd at Echo Architecture, who I profiled in late 2014, and we’re looking at one of the most interesting coffee openings in these parts ever.

    The Food Report recently sat down with Hill over a beer to get the scoop on Loyal. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

    Rocky Mountain Food Report: What’s Loyal Coffee’s approach to roasting?

    Tyler Hill: On some level, we would say we definitely have lighter coffees, but I think on a more intricate level, it’s more than just, like, roasting light, because there are a lot of companies that just roast light for being light. But if you just roast light that doesn’t mean you’re bring out the best in the coffee. So we  would say that we tend to go more on the lighter side, but we want to develop our coffee more. …

    So this coffee roasting — adding heat, taking away heat, for certain amounts of time — may be different depending on the coffee. Each coffee has its own DNA, so you want to roast it according to its DNA to bring out the best in it. We’re not going to burn any of these coffees, we’re not going to roast them so much. We want to back off of that char, we want to back off of that blackness. But some coffees could be roasted more than others, depending on the one, just because it has its own potential and you’re trying to realize that potential in it. So our roasting approach is trying to bring out the best in each specific coffee, and that means we are going to roast each one differently, depending on what it is.

    Is that different than what other people are doing?

    It’s not different depending on what the best people are doing. Sweet Bloom does that, Madcap does that, Intelligentsia does that. There’s a lot of people that are so scared to roast dark also that they roast very, very light. So we’re learning from a lot of people we admire.

    So yeah, we are not the only ones who do that. There are people who are better roasters than us. We’re still learning and growing a lot. But we’re mimicking the people we admire and are trying to add our own twist to it and do our own thing. But we want to develop coffee and bring out the best in it. Farmers did a lot of work to grow it in the way they did, to give this coffee the potential that it has, so we want to roast it to bring out that potential.

    tyler hill loyal coffee
    Tyler Hill. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Food Report

    How would you describe your sourcing approach?

    Making sure farmers are paid appropriately is a top priority to us, no doubt about it. The goal would be to working directly with farmers, so we are paying farmers directly out of our pocket to them. Now, we’re just not at that capability yet, so we’re working with very ethically oriented companies. We vetted our importers very specifically, because we know that they do treat the coffee farmer very well and they do pay them appropriate prices. So, Fair Trade is good prices, transparency; Direct Trade is, you’re the farmer, and we’re texting and phone calling each other and you’re literally mailing your coffee to us, no middle man. Right now we’re not quite at that place, but that is very much a goal.

    And you’re going to be sourcing from Madcap too?

    So, the majority of the coffee that you get is from Loyal, but we’re going to carry Madcap for two reasons. One is, to hold ourselves accountable to a great standard of coffee. We’re wanting to raise the bar it designed …  We’re not saying that we’re as good as Madcap, we’re not saying that they’re better than us — it’s like, we all do as best as we can, but we want to hold ourselves accountable, we want to inspire ourselves to be at a national level. We think Colorado Springs can be on a national scale in quality in a lot of things. [Distillery] 291 is making world-class whiskey, you know. We’re trying to be world-class baristas, we want world-class design and so to hold ourselves accountable next to somebody like Madcap, I think will help inspire us to be at level.

    It seems Colorado Springs is exploding with talent all over the place these days and is just ripe. 

    That’s it, and we want to do it ourselves and we want to help other people do it too. … So in the roasting facility, we’re roasting underneath this patio [at Ivywild School], we’re going to do a lot of barista training, so even if that looks like helping other coffee shops do really well, that’s what we’re going to do. We just want Colorado Springs to succeed. We want it to do well, so if that means us opening something we believe in or helping somebody else in something they believe in, we’re going to do what it takes to make that happen.

    So, this isn’t a Joseph Coleman [who owns Blue Star, Principal’s Office, Nosh, etc.] joint?

    That’s what makes this place so dope: Six baristas from Colorado Springs, all equal owners. Six. So that’s nuts. It could be the dumbest thing we ever did, or, the smartest thing we ever did. So far it’s the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my life. …

    Joseph Coleman has been very aware of what we’ve been doing. When I started working for the Blue Star Group, four years ago, I asked Joseph Coleman, “Where do you see me in five years?” He said, “Contributing to the city in a good way.” So here we are about three-and-a-half, four years later, and he’s known for a year that I’m going to open this place, and has let me keep my job, has paid me my same wages … has given us advice to help us open Loyal. He’s been on our squad, but it’s clearly its own thing. We are partnering with him, he owns this building, and we are going to have a roasting facility here. …

    The crazy thing is man, we’ve all worked for places own by people who weren’t coffee professionals. Every café I’ve worked at has been run by someone who just wanted to run a coffee shop, but had never been in coffee. Like, our efficiency and layout and design is by  coffee professionals who have spent significant time in the industry. So I think our guest experience is going to be world-class, because we’re combining the ideas and expertise of six people who have worked in the industry, who know how to treat a guest well, because they have been doing it for a long time.

    And the name’s a callback to being in Colorado Springs?

    Totally, man. About contributing here and staying here, investing in the city that we believe in. Now, we think this could be a national brand, but wherever we go, there’s going to be a hyper focus on contributing to the place where you’re at. So if you’re there, invest there, and make it better. Don’t whine about how Denver’s cooler, and I’m going to move there, or I’m going to move to Portland. Because you’re probably going to move back because Colorado Springs is dope. People are amazing here. I don’t really care that there are places with better design, there are places with better food, but nowhere with better people than here. So we’re going to make the design better and the food better where we are, and we are going to support people who are making great food and great art, and this is our way of contributing to that.

    So, when people walk in, what will they see? Give me a picture of Loyal.

    Depending on what you want, I think you’re going to see something different. If you’re there to get in and out of there very quickly, you’re going to be able to do that. We designed the café to where you can walk to the front, get your coffee and walk straight out another door, without having to walk through tables, without having to take a lot of time.

    The menu will be very simple, we’re going to have batch brew that you can get in 45 seconds: In and out. And that’s very intentional. You follow a path that we put in the floor: Get in, get out, badda bing badda boom. If you want to stay there too, just walk up to the counter, we’ll bring you chilled water, we want to take care of you really really well.

    There’s private spaces and there’s also very public spaces. There’s nooks; there’s walls with independent light; there’s also a large community table. And there’s also what we’re calling a stump garden, where it’s like a bunch a stools that you can all gather around and, like, 50 people can make their own little powwow. Very communal. So: both. So, I guess the first answer is, depending on what you’re going for, we’re going to tailor your experience to that.

    With that being said, you’re going to come in, like, it’s going to be gorgeous. We have spent a lot of time and a lot of money making this. We wanted to give an example to Colorado Springs of what good design can be.

    Everything is custom. Every chair you sit in, all the benches, all the woodworking, is custom to our space. Our goal was to set an example. We believe that good design matters, and it matters for your experience. It will make the coffee taste better. We wanted to take all five senses into consideration here. For example, even down to, at some restaurants you scootch your chair back and it makes a big screechy noise. Why don’t they put felt on the bottom of those chairs? That’s annoying, that ruins your experience. We don’t want that. Stuff like that man. We want good music to match the weather, to match the time of day. To match your mood, how you’re feeling. We want the music to match, so we’re making playlists to match those things. If the café is empty, the music should be different from when it’s full. Things like that.

    We’ve said this from the beginning, every detail profoundly matters. So do our spoons match our cups and tables? That match the whole design of the café? Do these cups match the style of our coffee? Do they advocate for the style of coffee that we are doing? That changes things.

    Article originally published on the Rocky Mountain Food Report. Reprinted with permission.

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