Cultural Coffee Maps

A Practical Coffee Map

I am particularly gifted at getting lost. So when we visit a new town, I have to map things out. Of course, “mapping things out” is really “figuring out how to get to the best coffee shops in town.” There is a trick to it. I have a handy (free) app that I rely on when visiting new places. It is called “Closest Cup.” Opening the app brings up a list of the closest coffee shops. The listing is linked to the business’s website and location in google maps. Wherever I am, a few minutes of scrolling through my “Closest Cup” app and even I can find locally roasted fair-trade coffee nearby without getting lost.

A screenshot of Closest Cup when in Denver, CO

A screenshot of Closest Cup when in Denver, CO

Last weekend, my husband, daughter and I traveled to Denver, Colorado for the first time. Of course, I had to map my trip. Maps can be works of art that show what’s important to the maker. Even one of the earliest “scientific” maps – the Mercator Projection – wrongly distorts Europe’s land mass near the North Pole, making it look much larger than it really is in relation to the other countries, (Seager). I suppose one map of my life would be a street map with little coffee mug icons where the best cafés sit. “Closest Cup” may be my life-map.

Denver has good coffee. I visited four quality cafes in the three days we were there. The coffee highlight of the trip was a visit to Steam, which was listed as one of the “Top 25 Coffee Shops in the World,” if such hyperbolic lists are even faintly realistic.

While my husband was at a trade show (he was there for work, so my daughter and I roamed the town during the afternoon) Carissa and I hopped in the rental car, opened the “Closest Cup” map and had Siri talk us through the drive.

Steam is located in a suburb outside of Denver in a tiny Victorian-style house with white clapboards, a wooden floor, and crowning on the top of the walls. To the back sits a cute patio reminiscent of an English Garden with white scrolled metal chairs, round tables and, unexpectedly, the exposed fuselage of a small plane. Industrial elements inside the Victorian style abode – exposed air ducts, metal tables and iron chandeliers – gave the place a cool retro-yet-modern feel.

Very cool lighting

Very cool lighting

A plane fuselage in the patio... seems logical

A plane fuselage in the patio… seems logical

I opened the door, anticipating one of the “Top 25 Coffee Shops in the World,” and four baristas in white shirts and pants with black aprons stared me up and down before turning back to their conversation. The twenty or so patrons in the room, all in skinny jeans, fashionable flannel and horn-rimmed glasses did the same.

A splendid latte from Steam in Denver, CO

A splendid latte from Steam in Denver, CO



This is not what was supposed to happen. According to Spurr, I was supposed to be the visitor feasting my eyes upon my new surroundings, (1993) Instead what I encountered was the gaze of two dozen unimpressed hipsters.

Despite the odds, I had to fulfill my quest: I ordered a latte from the black-aproned barista.

The truly delightful beverage was made on a magnificent, shiny Marzocco. The latte art was crisp; it looked like he’d used a brown sharpie on white paper. And it tasted very good – great foam with a deep, smooth espresso. In fact, it reminded me of my favorite Tucson haunt: Presta Coffee. Except that I am not an outsider at Presta.

A Different Kind of Coffee Map

Last night I happened across a PBS documentary, Colombia: Capital & Coffee from the series In the Americas with David Yetman. The host was touring Zona Cafetera, the geographical source of most Columbian coffee. Each coffee farm had its own specialty; each coffee farm owner his or her own personality.

The piece ended with a segment on a great carnival held each year to crown the “Coffee Queen.” Each coffee-growing region sent a beauty queen, a float and local dancers and costumes to parade through the streets. There were groups dressed as butterflies celebrating the butterflies that migrate to their coffee plants at the start of the season. There was a group from an area where former slaves settled; they danced with giant puppets representing death, the devil, and a witch, who were being fended off by a man on a makeshift horse, (Yetman).

This parade was a living, moving map. It didn’t show the spatial relations of each area, but it told at a glance the culture and celebration of each area.

I wondered if the ethos of coffee shops reflect their area like the floats and dancers in Columbia’s coffee parade? Denver’s Steam can celebrate its hipster-ness and Tucson’s Presta its laid-back southwestern-ness while we travelers get to mark them on our mental maps, savoring a taste of each.


Seager, J. Maps. Retrieved from

Spurr, D. (1993). The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration. Duke University Press

Yetman, D. (2015). Columbia: Capital & Coffee from In the Americas with David Yetman.


5 thoughts on “Cultural Coffee Maps

  1. This is a wonderful read. I wish you would have given me a photograph of Steam to go with the mental picture you perfectly described. I love coffee, but alas I cannot drink it any more. You can imagine by sadness over this. But thank you for letting me remember the wonderful aroma and pleasing taste of really good espresso.


  2. Once again, you had me hooked with your opening. You wrote, “I am particularly gifted at getting lost. So when we visit a new town, I have to map things out. Of course, “mapping things out” is really “figuring out how to get to the best coffee shops in town.”

    I know EXACTLY what you mean. A few years back, a new mom-and-pop coffee shop opened in my hometown only a stone’s throw away from my front door. My husband and I were so excited about it, that on the day we opened we put on our walking shoes and took the 10-minute trek to not simply get coffee, but take in the décor of the establishment. The excitement of the opening (and the short walk it took to get to the shop) made us feel like we were travelling for adventure! I get it!

    Your description of Steam is very beautiful — like a Thomas Kinkade painting! I would like to see a picture of Steam. Does it have a Web site or could you include an image?


    • Hi Denise,
      Thanks for your comments on my post. I really wanted to take a picture of Steam for the blog but a) I am a lousy photographer, and b) I was daunted by everyone staring at me. Admittedly, I should have shown more courage, embraced my touristy self and snapped a photo… but alas, I missed that opportunity. Here’s the address for their site though. It has a lot of nice pictures to make up for my lack of skill and courage:

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved your theme. It doesn’t matter where I am, or if I am lost, what is important is if I can find a good cup of coffee. I feel like the only thing in my part of town are the chains, Starbucks, Dunkin, and Dutch Brothers. I think they make good coffee, but I doubt there are on any top 25 lists. I also like your statement about the areas reflecting those around them or vice versa. Perhaps those hipsters need to move the hair out of their eyes and get lost like you with a coffee app.


  4. Hello, my Blog buddy! Once again, I really enjoyed reading your blog. I loved how you tied in the theme of getting lost and the use of maps. Great ideas. Your descriptions were excellent. I traveled with you, anticipating a great experience, only to find disappointment in the service and customers. The coffee did look beautiful though! I remember that once while traveling in Florida, we decided to stop at a “local” seafood restaurant that always had a lot of cars. It looked busy, so the food must be good, right? The service was horrible, and the food was not great. It seemed “packaged” and not “authentic.” As I looked around, I noticed a group of people that I did not expect. Call me judgmental, but I was solving a mystery! These people were well dressed, drove nice cars, and kept to themselves. The restaurant was near very expensive condos and resorts. My friend looked at me, as if we had solved the world’s greatest riddle! “These guys are wannbes!” she smiled. “They think they are locals, but they are caught in a tourist trap! They are rich tourists trying to feel Southern for a day! They may as well be at Cracker Barrel for ‘authentic food!’ They are yuppies!” We started to laugh…uncontrollably. They were posers, and we had been fooled as well. One lady even carried a little dog in a purse with her! This was not a “local” crowd! Everyone had their teeth! There was no fire pit smoking meat in the parking lot! No bikers were to be found! They even took credit cards for Pete’s sake! Sometimes our greatest discoveries when traveling is “seeing” the true situation around us.
    I love your blog and hope to read much more. I like the tone of your writing and that you take your reader on a journey with you. You seem very approachable and friendly in your writing. The class readings are incorporated throughout and do not seem like an afterthought. Nice work. I hope to continue reading and follow your work well after this class!


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