Area coffee shops keep us caffeinated 

Fueled through the pandemic

click to enlarge Java Punk is a stylish steampunk spot. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Java Punk is a stylish steampunk spot.

No drug is as socially acceptable in America as caffeine, and while the state’s response to COVID-19 has kept many people out of their favorite cafés, roasters and baristas have done their essential jobs to keep El Paso County buzzing along as happily as possible.

To the north, Wayfinder Coffee Co. opened in late 2018, specializing in darker roasts and espresso drinks made to traditional European recipes, with drinks reliably more bitter and aggressive than those one might find at Starbucks.

While we’re tempted by the globe-trotting menu in this gorgeous, breezy space, we’re not there for a big meal. Rather, we opt for a latte with oat milk, picking from a list of 1883 Maison Routin syrups to flavor it.

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Advised away from citrus options like yuzu lemon — our barista says the acidity does funny things with milk — we go for toffee crunch, a chocolate-caramel syrup. The latte winds up delicious and smooth without a hint of scorching. That darker roasted coffee, not typically our thing, plays nicely with the caramel notes in the syrup, an enhancement rather than a flaw being covered up.

We do deviate from our coffee-only plan for a house-made pastry, in this case a savory tomato-mozzarella croissant. It comes full of big pieces of tomato and stretchy cheese with just a hint of pesto. Ours arrives heated through and squashed flat by a panini press, but we don’t mind. There’s so much butter in the pastry, and the crunch it gets brings joy.

Out east, Java Punk Coffee opened in early 2018, brewing coffee made from Inertia Coffee Company beans. The stylish steampunk spot, when we arrive for a cuppa to-go, offers a special called a salty dog latte. It comes with two shots of espresso, two pumps of caramel sauce and an horchata that adds a serious cinnamon punch.

Taste-wise, it’s a winner, a blend of strong flavors that balance each other beautifully. And while it’s creamy-smooth, it’s not too heavy. Hell, we’re half ready to Thor it up and boisterously demand another.

But first, we must go south, down to a little coffee shack in Security. Valley Espresso stands a stone’s throw from Highway 85, a little brown structure in a parking lot shared with Gold’s Gym and a Sonic. The paint on the shack advertises house-made mini donuts, all-fruit smoothies and daily board special lattes.

The beans they use are a secret they won’t share, but we don’t actually taste much coffee flavor in our S’mores latte, which we order sans whipped cream, and iced. It tastes exactly like a toasted marshmallow, even showing subtle caramel notes. Though super creamy and milk-forward, the caffeine kick we get from it shows they aren’t shorting us on coffee. Third wave coffee fans may not like it, but it’s sweet and accessible.

We also try a peach pear apricot smoothie to beat the heat, and we’re damn happy with the way the pear mellows but doesn’t diminish the true-to-fruit character of the stone fruits. It’s a zero-qualifiers-needed delight. 


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