81301 Durango Coffee Roasters

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81301 Coffee Roasters

Durango, Colorado

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As a nomad of some sorts its necessary for me to create home in whatever location I wind up in. The most important step to do this is to find a coffee shop that meets my “standards” and can hold up to my ever evolving expectations… I will walk the extra mile, drive the extra time, and spend the extra money just to be in an environment that feels like me. It essentially turns into a research project consistent of tests, comparisons, and notes. Ironically, it is not the quality of the coffee that holds the most value, it is the environment, the location, the “vibe”, the people, the music choice and the customer base. Do I feel safe here? What does this place do for my creativity? Do I feel like an intruder if I spend extra time? How is the response when I ask a question from my never-ending list? (Do you have a pen? A piece of paper? How is your chai made? Can I do a half-caf? What’s your least caffeinated tea?) Really, I border between fairly ridiculous and neurotic. Its okay, though, I’m fully aware of my demands but I also know there are gems in the world that can live up to them. One of those places is 81301.

I remember the first time I came into the coffee shop. It was raining out and I needed somewhere to work on my website while I waited to begin selling my art at a local famers market a block away. Brice, the current manager, noticed that I was an irregular and prompted a conversation to get to know me, something beyond his “duties”. It immediately made me feel comfortable and welcome and gave me the mindset I needed to do my work. The next time I returned, he remembered my name. It was such a huge marker for me. So I kept returning and each time I was meant with a warm face behind the counter, whether they had seen me in before or not. You can’t help but feel cooler when you come into the a place like this. The staff is cool. The music is cool. The organic milk and homemade almond milk is even cool. Plus the coffee truly is kick-ass. Americanos that are so well-done they don’t even need milk. It is the place to be, and that is shown by how hard it is to find a table most days.

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This family owned, self-roasting coffee shop is located in the heart of a very quickly expanding, outdoor-centric college town in Colorado. Started in 2014, newly weds Sage and Taylor took the entrepreneurial leap and opened up 81301, the zip code of the location in which it resides, Durango. Sage, coming from a coffee background in Winterpark, was already familiar with the inner workings of the business, so the decision to open up her own was second-hand. The passion and standards for the product she creates was exemplified when I observed her during the interview reach down, pick up a handful of beans and smell them. It’s a simple act but it showed so much to me, not about the mechanical process of roasting, but about the intuitive nature of roasting. This is why Sage is the only one “allowed to touch the beans.” Taylor, although my observation may be slightly skewed by him wearing a tool belt during the interview, keeps the place running.They had just finished their renovations, an entire redesign of the front of house, consisting of a new brewista bar and furnishings. I was blown away to find out the tables were all hand-made by Taylor himself. They are beautifully and professionally done and consistent with the aesthetic of the coffee shop as a whole, which has a very modern rustic feel about it.

The desire for the renovations comes from their current philosophy of “perfect what we have.” This is counterintuitive to what most small businesses rush into when they are doing well, have a large customer following, and a growing need for product, which is “go bigger.” It seems ideal and logical, but it is this very thing that sometimes makes intimate locations lose their magic. They bring in more product, more employees, the need overhead, possible manufacturing in alternative locations, and before you know it the connection between consumer and producer is muddied. This is certainly not always the case but even the plausibility for such an expansion in Durango is hindered extensively by the commercial market for warehouses in the area. Although it’s a town with a strong sense of local pride and support, the real estate market says something to the contrary, which is where 81301’s philosophy really comes into play. Pumping out between 600 and 1000lbs of beans per month, the majority being sold on site and the rest reaching other accounts within a 60 mile radius, it is no doubt they are doing something very right.

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The absolute best part about it is the staff. You can tell how well an establishment is operating by the faces that are representing it. These guys funny, engaging, and genuine. You can’t help but notice how much they enjoy working there and with each other. They’re not co-workers, they’re family, most of who extend their interactions beyond the doors of the coffee shop. Joie, the baker is warm and friendly and had all of the best things to say about her job and her bosses. Front of house, the day of my interview, was Brice, Eric, and Ben. All were incredibly accommodating, even with me adding extra pressure onto the “latte art”. Oh yeah, and by the way, their Chai is a homemade blend of spices, that they grind and concentrate in house that they even infuse into whip cream. From top to bottom, inside and out, this is one of the most well-ran and comfortable coffee shops I have come across in all of my travels.

A huge thank you to the owners, the staff, and the customers for allowing me the opportunity of an interview and the chance to connect more intimately with such a location.