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Best Of 2012: Local Coffee Roaster

Give the same green coffee to 10 different roasters, and post-roast, "all would be slightly different," says Eric "Harry" Nicol at Colorado Coffee Merchants. That's because the two main variables — roast time and temperature — drastically affect the flavor, and there's no detailed rule book to follow when it comes to the process.

At CCM, a third variable is key to how the company's coffee is roasted: the equipment. Versus the much more common drum roaster, in which the heat comes from outside, CCM's fluid-air bed roaster heats like a "big, oversized popcorn machine," Nicol says. The air flow has a tendency to sift out more smoke and debris, as well as leftover chaff. Why's that important? When you drink a cup of coffee, he says, it's charred chaff that increases the drink's acidity, and can leave both your palate and stomach unhappy.

In the 8½ years since owner Eric Umenhofer opened CCM, the Fillmore Street shop has shifted most of its roasting from an 8-pound machine to a 38-pounder. Coming off that machine these days are two small-batch brands: Ümpire Estate Mountain Roasters and Idle Truck, the latter nodding to Umenhofer's previous career as a local firefighter.

It's unlikely you'll catch the original roaster running during a random stop by the shop — it's primarily used now for developing taste profiles for new coffees. However, drop by midday Monday through Saturday, and you'll probably be able to pick up a whiff of hot beans "popping" through the larger machine while you wait in line to order a latte (or mocha or another fancy drink). CCM roasts daily in order to produce 100 to 150 pounds a day, enough to keep on top of its local business for that day and the next. — Kirsten Akens

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Best Of 2013: Local Coffee Roaster

'Quality before profit. It's always been that way," says Colorado Coffee Merchants owner Eric Umenhofer of his coffees. Umenhofer and Co. are so dedicated to the perfect bean, they've expanded operations to offer classes in brewing and roasting the dark elixir. To do that, they've taken over the rest of their Fillmore Street building, adding 50 percent more room. "We can offer formal and informal classes," Umenhofer notes. "If a person wants to know how to brew a specific roast, we can take them to a place and show them, right then and there." He hopes to open up the more formal classes in roasting and brewing for the public by the middle of November.— Bret Wright

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