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But First, Coffee.

A students’ guide to Tahoe coffee

Courtesy Paul Heran

Courtesy Paul Heran

Ryland West, Editor

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It’s 7 a.m., you just pulled an all-nighter to finish a 10-page research paper due in two hours, and the bags under your eyes have bags. What to do? Find coffee.

I.V. Coffee Lab 

As you approach the counter, the barista leans over and says, “What can I get ya, bud?” You say a latte. Over the group of six behind you and the buzz of the busy cafe, he comments on the weather while fussing with the espresso machine. Another guest from down the bar joins in. Soon everyone around the counter is talking like they’ve known each other for years. A hub for local interaction, I.V. Coffee Lab is a coffee drinker’s equivalent to a small town bar.

Located off Tahoe Boulevard, I.V. is the go-to for local coffee in Incline. The walls are decorated in local art, the stereo blares top 40s, and the T.V. plays action sports.

I.V. offers one of the most intimate forms of coffee, the pour-over. The barista takes your choice of coffee beans, grinds a select roast, and pours hot water over the fresh grounds. The five-minute process pulls out extraordinary flavors. I.V. offers Sulawesi, a roast not many other coffee shops carry. This roast embodies a rich chocolate flavor followed by subtle notes of tobacco.

Coffeebar 

Coffeebar is reigning king of coffee shops in Tahoe. Many locals’ favorite, Coffeebar has two locations in Truckee, a shop in Squaw Valley, Reno and rumor has is it, soon the Bay Area. The quality of coffee, atmosphere and staff is unmatched.

All coffee comes from an organic fair trade source, and is prepared by French press. The manager argues that it’s the best way to express the coffee’s full flavor. The bitterness of coffee is completely eliminated, replaced with a thick body exhibiting notes of fruit and chocolate.

For espresso lovers, there isn’t a bitter taste that shocks the senses, but rather a light, sweet sting of strong espresso. The baristas are trained to prepare it at the correct temperature to keep the shots from expiring.

Wild Cherries 

The coffee shop for mountain town dwellers and tourists, Wild Cherries is the classic one-stop shop before a day on the hill. The shop offers full breakfast and lunch, along with side pastries. Seven different roasts are available for just a dollar.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like this place would make good coffee. The retro ski photos hang crooked, the shelves are askew with dangling, mismatched knick-knacks. The red chair cushions and wall trim are a screaming distraction.

It was a delightful surprise when I took a sip of one of their home-brewed Colombian roasts. Comparable to the richness offered at Coffeebar, the coffee bit my tongue with its magnificent sweetness drawn from the fruit in the flavor profile.

By the time I got to the espresso, I took my cup to go. The noisy chaos in the shop was too stressful. Eight people were crammed around a table meant for four, the single tables were shoulder to shoulder, and the manager was having a manic fit over someone spilling their coffee. The record-breaking winter may have brought in excess business to the small shop that morning, but it seems it’s always that way.

Zuri Coffee 

Truckee’s rookie coffee shop, Zuri Coffee, is brand-new to the scene this year. It snuck in sometime in the month of February, with nothing more than a plastic sign that read: “Now Open.”

The shop’s rustic art theme and vast windows clash with its neighbor, the DMV. On occasion I’ve seen the vanity plate, “Mr. Zuri,” parked in a handicapped spot right outside his shop. He doesn’t seem to have a permit for that.

The interior is decorated in the cliché vintage look of a big city coffee shop. Metal lamps hang from the ceiling from thick twine, the walls are overlaid with rusty looking metal, and the whole shop has a chestnut brown theme.

Luckily the coffee isn’t as bad as the decor. The espresso didn’t blow my socks off, but it remained a tame extra to a latte. The coffee was thin, but smooth. It exhibited the notes of its flavor profile but didn’t overwhelm me. For mild coffee lovers, this place is worth a stop.

Syd’s Coffee 

A little coffee shop rife with local charm, Syd’s is the perfect accommodation to small-town life in Tahoe City. You can grab a coffee, a gluten-free muffin, then head out the back door to the beach, the front door to the Edington Gallery, or sit and enjoy the waterfront view and local Tahoe photography on the walls. The delicately sweet coffee is prepared from beans locally roasted in Reno from Hub Coffee Roasters.

Syd’s espresso has a soft piquant taste. It’s relatively neutral besides the subtle nip in the aftertaste. It is highly recommended to pair the espresso in an almond milk latte. The almond milk adds a nut-like taste to slightly overcome the acrid pinch.

Tunnel Creek Cafe 

This is the mountain cabin turned coffee shop. At the base of Tahoe’s famous Flume Trail, Tunnel Creek Cafe offers a quiet, homey setting to enjoy a Sunday morning coffee. The atmosphere is inviting enough on its own; the coffee from Mount Hood Roasters just feels like an added commodity.

Once you grab a self-serve coffee, take a book over to one of the sofas by the window, and enjoy the soft music playing in the background and the shop’s warm atmosphere. If you want to have a conversation with a friend, this is a coffee shop where you don’t have to shout.

If it’s a sunny day, bring in your own cup and fill it with some iced coffee before embarking on a hike or a bike ride on the trail behind the cafe.

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But First, Coffee.