In 2006, Vajra and Cara Rich left their home on Vashon Island, a community fifteen minutes (by ferry) from Seattle, and resettled in Boulder, Colorado. They brought with them a dream they acquired while living in the Pacific Northwest, close to the country’s coffee epicenter, of someday owning their own roastery and café. Cara had been a barista in Seattle and Vajra had spent time working in Songer & Associates coffee quality lab. In Colorado they began working for the same wholesale roasting company, and four years later they bought it, rebranding it Boxcar Coffee Roasters after the American pastime of soapbox derby racing.
In 2011, Boxcar opened its flagship café on the east end of downtown Boulder’s pedestrian-friendly Pearl Street. The space, with exposed brick walls and ample natural light, is shared with cheese, charcuterie, and wine shop Cured, allowing Boxcar’s customers to taste its coffees alongside other gourmet items. The shop’s elegant bar, marble-topped and tiled in blue and white, is the focal point, where friendly and helpful baristas work a sleek Kees Van Der Westen espresso machine and brew up high-elevation, small-batch coffee.
Boxcar’s second location opened in 2013 in Denver’s The Source, an artisan food market occupying a brick foundry building dating back to the late 1800s. Ample space in Denver allowed Boxcar to move its roasting and production out of its flagship store in April, freeing up additional seating in Boulder’s former roasting room. With more room to sit and chat (but no outlets for laptop campers), a six-seat bar is still the best seat in the house, affording a close-up glimpse of the Boilermakr, Boxcar’s high-elevation brewing station. Water and grounds bubble in spherical carafes at high heat, combating Boulder’s low boiling temperature. Three roasts a day go through the space age-looking system. Though it sits behind a glass case, it’s still just a variation on good ol’ cowboy coffee.
Missing from the café is any sense of pretension. “We have a firm belief that you can serve coffee without being pretentious and that you can serve impeccably made coffee without being pretentious,” says Vajra, who calls the environment personal and customer-focused. “We wanted to do that, so we built a whole café to make it happen.”
1. Order Here: Customers order at the machine instead of at the register to shorten wait times between the order and finished drink, and to improve the overall customer experience. This sign helps keep everything flowing smoothly.
2. The Coffee: All of Boxcar’s coffees are roasted on a 1929 Gothot Ideal Rapid and available for sale in 300-gram packages.
3. The Versalab M3: Every morning baristas dial in espresso using the Versalab M3. Grinding at a slower speed and having a clear path from the burrs to the portafilter allows them to serve the best espresso possible.
4. Pastries: Locally baked pastries ranging from chocolate croissants to morning buns fill the cases each morning.
5. The Machine: Pre-infusion cylinders and stable heat exchangers make this Dutch-made machine ideal to brew espresso at Boulder’s altitude of 5,430 feet. There are Kees Van Der Westen machines in both cafés, and the roaster recommends them to all wholesale accounts.
6. Menu: Boxcar offers three different coffees each day on the Boilermakr and two espressos, the Stella house blend and a seasonally changing option.
7. Bar Seating: Six seats at the bar give customers an opportunity to talk more in depth about the coffees with the baristas, try samples of new coffees about to be released, and watch the Boilermakr in action.
8. The Boilermakr: Boxcar’s signature high-altitude brewing method helps the staff brew a great cup of coffee at Colorado’s high elevation and low boiling temperature. Inspired by traditional “cowboy coffee,” grounds are immersed in hot water and brought to a boil (202 degrees Fahrenheit). Three different roasts get the Boilermakr treatment a day.
—Regan Crisp is Fresh Cup’s associate editor.