At the turn of the twentieth century, coal was the primary source of energy for this country. Huge deposits were turned from the earth and kings were made out of the men who discovered them. With the invention of the internal combustion engine, American society became dependent on another type of fuel, crude oil, which powered our high-speed automobiles and allowed us to get wherever we needed to go faster than ever before.
Now, more than a century after electricity from coal-burning plants made its way into every house and home, America is slowly becoming dependent on yet another kind of fuel -- coffee. Coffee shops have made unbelievable amounts of money selling caffeine-laden concoctions to businessmen and bums alike, and coffee has become the choice early-morning stimulant of countless millions.
For better or for worse, coffee has accelerated the pace of everyday living, just as electricity and gasoline did years before. Things are so bad, in fact, that people can no longer afford to wait in a line of slow moving people for their daily fix. No, one must acquire one's source of morning inspiration as quickly as possible, and capitalizing on this desire for immediacy are drive-through coffee stops, the latest venture designed solely to appeal to the busy schedule of soccer moms who can afford no time for interaction with counter flunkies.
A few things are universally true about these bastions of modern convenience. For one, the counters are placed at just the right height for SUVs and trucks, but far too high for a sports car's comfort. I found myself staring up out of my window and struggling to reach the tip jar. I suppose this is a pretty strong indicator of their target demographic.
The other constant is that, much like gas stations, they're priced to compete with the standard in town, which, like all other cities in America, is now Starbuck's. Starbuck's prices are decent, but they are by no means the best around. Nonetheless, this is the standard by which all other coffee houses are judged, and so this is what I compare these joints to.
Colorados Premier Coffee Company
Colorado's Premier Coffee Company is by far the most accessible drive-through coffee bar, with five locations scattered throughout the Springs. The shops are relatively easy to spot, built as tiny little stone huts topped with great semi-circular copper signs with their name tattooed in teal lettering.
I paid $2.45 for a tall 12 oz. latt, about what you can expect from your average sit-down coffee shop. Other drinks are priced similarly -- a small 8 oz. cup of regular coffee goes for a buck and the most expensive drink is $3.75. The espresso is dark and well-blended, without that gritty Starbuck's aftertaste, good but not exceptional. The service was quick and kind, and that's important when you're getting ready to deal with the less reasonable drivers in this city.
If you feel like an idiot ordering 140 coffee when the ambient temperature outside is between 75 and 95 Fahrenheit, you're not alone. To help keep business going during the dog days of summer, most coffee shops have adopted a fairly decent menu of iced drinks in addition to their normal menus. Typically, they will have iced versions of all their regular espresso drinks, as well as iced teas or Italian sodas. Premier has a pretty good selection, and the prices are again right on the average.
3115 W. Colorado, 870 Garden of the Gods, 5046 N. Academy, 4797 Barnes, and 434 W. Fillmore.
The place to go for specialty drinks, Caveman's has the largest menu of hot espresso drinks I've ever seen. Exciting creations like "The Nuke" (a five-shot white coffee Kahlua mocha), "Zing Yang" (a latte with dark and white chocolate, a double shot of dark espresso and a dark shot of white espresso) and "Sunburn" (a quadruple white coffee, coconut and vanilla latte). Caveman's is the Springs' exclusive purveyor of white coffee, a special type the owner learned about in Seattle. And their "Thermonuclear" drinks, as I understand it, have about 500 percent more caffeine than your average cup of tea and cost around $6 a pop.
In case you're wondering, yes, it's worth it. Having spent a great deal of time in my formative years hanging out in coffee shops, I've built up an enviable tolerance to the effects of caffeine. I no longer get the shakes after my third or fourth cup, but a Nuke was too much for me to handle without needing to park for a few hours and soothe myself to the sounds of KCME. I strongly suggest you buy one only if you plan on staying up for the next few days. But if you're just looking to satisfy a mean sweet tooth, nothing beats a White Zombie (a double white coffee, white chocolate vanilla mocha), Caveman's most popular drink. Oh, and perfectly normal coffee is available as well.
Caveman's used to operate on the corner of Union and Lelaray, in the parking lot of the old Mega Mall, but they wisely moved onto East Pikes Peak Avenue, right next to Montgomery Ward's. It's still a lonely job, and I highly recommend that if you plan on returning there, you tip the alligator on the counter. It's the right thing to do, people.
2438 E. Pikes Peak
The Daily Grind
Tucked away in the Old North End of town, just a few blocks from the Patty Jewett Golf Course, The Daily Grind provides people on the go with quality espresso drinks, and baked goods as well. These are acquired from Woody's Continental Pastries in the Bon Shopping Center, and they include excellent donuts and almond twisty things.
Prices here are decent, with a normal latte going for about $2. The best part about the Grind is that its out of the way location virtually assures that you'll be the only one in line when you get there. While you're ordering there you kind of get the feeling that this place was set up just for you, color-coded in the shades of the Italian flag. It's a very cozy setup, and that's of immeasurable psychological value when it's 6:34 in the morning and you're preparing for traffic on I-25.
I found that their espresso has a pleasant, nutty flavor to it, as though it had been roasted on an open fire and not in a giant steel machine in some factory in Tuscaloosa. Their selection of drinks is fairly standard, if not incredibly exciting, and they're produced competently by the kind man in the window.
I honestly can say that the drive-through coffee experience is infinitely more pleasurable than motoring through McDonald's on even the nicest of days, and might even rank higher than last night's cold pizza in some circles. For those Americans who feel that they spend more time in their automobiles than in their beds, these shops make picking up a double skinny decaf hazelnut cappuccino easier than grabbing the morning paper. Just don't forget to change out of your bathrobe before jetting off to get your fix.