Alpine Modern

Behind the Bar

Alpine Modern Cafe serves specialty coffee in Boulder, Colorado.

(Photo: courtesy of Alpine Modern.)

Alpine Modern built its first café in the University Hill area of Boulder, Colorado. Laptop-toting students from the University of Colorado fill the hilltop café during winter months, replaced by swarms of tourists in summertime. Looking to provide another venue for Boulder residents to enjoy the café’s offerings, Alpine Modern opened an outpost on Pearl Street, a centrally located thoroughfare in the city’s downtown area.

“The idea behind this was if you can’t make it to the café and need a coffee on the run, this would be that spot,” says Alex Baum, the café’s beverage manager. He explains that the Pearl Street location is designed around efficiencies. As the newly opened grab-and-go café sees higher customer volumes, they’ll be equipped to meet demand, running like a high-functioning kitchen.

The café element of Alpine Modern was developed as an extension of the overall brand, providing a community gathering place. Co-founders Lon and Lauren McGowan have streamlined the company into a lifestyle brand, offering an online periodical and thoughtfully sourced goods—including clothing, housewares, and outdoor gear—that unite modern design with mountain living.

“The whole idea is city people moving to the mountains,” Baum says. “The mountains used to be this rustic lodge and now it’s changing and emerging, so what does that look like today?”

At the Pearl Street café, a chevron theme pays homage to the nearby mountains, while a simple, clean aesthetic reflects the McGowans’ modern taste. Coffee selections are also kept simple: the café offers batch brew and espresso from Middle State Roasters. “Our main customer wants a cup of coffee,” Baum says, explaining that manual brews didn’t make sense for their café or customer base.

The Alpine Modern brand attracts café visitors from all corners of the world, many them connecting through Instagram. Most of these curious café-goers aren’t specialty coffee–savvy—or even into coffee—making an experience that’s approachable and inviting particularly important. “It’s why we love Middle State. It’s not as light as a lot of the specialty stuff you get. Jay roasts for just clean and sweet and lovely coffees,” Baum says.

Alpine Modern also brings in a new guest roaster each month, like Stockholm’s Drop Coffee Roasters. “People get a coffee and walk around in the shop and start to get the brand more,” Baum says. “It’s hanging out with well-designed products and drinking good coffee.”

Alpine Modern Cafe serves specialty coffee in Boulder, Colorado.
(Photo: Ellie Bradley.)

1) Under-counter Filtration: The smaller size of the Pearl Street café ruled out use of an RO system. An Everpure High Flow system gets the job done.

2) Cup Caddy: Aside from 4.4-ounce Duralex glasses for cortados, all drinks are served in to-go cups, stored in cubbies under the point-of-service for quick access.

3) Hot on Demand: Without extra rooms for kettles, a forty-five-liter Marco Ecoboiler serves up hot water on demand through a font on the front bar. “It works so much better than any tap I’ve ever used,” says beverage manager Alex Baum.

4) Keeping It Simple: A two-group Modbar manages espresso for the café, alongside two steam wands. The module rests on a rolling cart under the counter, easily movable during cleaning. The portafilter handles were custom-lathed by Saint Anthony Industries; La Marzocco didn’t offer ash and Alpine Modern wanted the handles to match the Douglas fir found in the rest of the space.

5) Cool Flow: Micro Matic did a lot of under-bar work for the café, including the ice machine. “They hooked us up with a typical ice machine, but it actually fits under the bar,” Baum says.

6) Rinse, Repeat: Micro Matic’s rinsers are designed for beer, so the company worked with Espresso Parts to build countertop rinsers into the main bar area that would work for cleaning milk.

7) Mop ‘N Stow: How do you know a barista designed the bar? The mop sink is neatly tucked out of sight, behind two cupboard doors and next to the floor drains. Genius.

Alpine Modern Cafe serves specialty coffee in Boulder, Colorado.
(Photo: courtesy of Alpine Modern.)

1) Three’s Company: These twenty-five-cup siphon brewers aren’t just for decoration; they’re used to make the café’s cold-brew.

2) Batch-brew Beast: This Curtis Gemini G4 Intellifresh is Alpine Modern’s workhorse, churning out batch brew based on pre-programmed settings. “I love this thing. It’s a beast,” Baum says.

3) Sleek Storage: Baum votes for drawers over shelves, always. These drawers store the café’s supply of coffee, allowing for easy rotation of stock and helping to maintain the café’s neat profile.

4) Barista Tool Belt: An OCD and a Statesman tamper help Alpine Modern whip out high-quality espresso shots. Baum likes the Statesman for its ability to force proper wrist positioning, saving a lot of pain by the end of a long shift.

5) Banished to the Back: Two Mahlkönig Peaks grind for espresso—one for a single-origin, the other for decaf. A Mahlkönig EK 43 handles all grinding for the café’s batch brew. “I’ve always put grinders on the back bar,” Baum says. “It’s a messy thing and there’s no way of keeping it clean when it gets busy.”

Ellie Bradley is Fresh Cup‘s editor.