Editor’s note: This Vs. That is Travel Boulder’s weekly comparison guide designed to help you pick the activities, food, drinks, hotels and events that best fit your preferences. It’s like if a traditional newspaper review had a love child with Yelp, except always reliably researched and experienced firsthand by our local writers. Because sometimes you can best understand an option by seeing what it is not and by placing it side by side with something else.
It’s like choosing the lesser of two evils. Except the lesser of two wonders, and neither can possibly be lesser. Just different.
Seattle gets so much cred for being coffee king, but Boulder’s definitely royalty, too. Every corner seems to be home to the next best cup of joe.
Two of the most reputable coffee shops in town also roast their own beans, of course. Here’s a closer look at Boxcar Coffee Roasters and Ozo Coffee Company and what makes each unique.
Ozo Coffee Company
The coffee: Ozo roasts fresh coffee every week. It has about a dozen different blends, such as the Organic Ozo Blend (big but mild, sort of like the coffee version of s’mores), the Organic Espresso Isabelle (a dark roast), the Cozy Cabin Blend (mild with hints of almond, vanilla and caramel) and the 8th Wonder Espresso.
You can order these beans online wholesale to be shipped straight to your house. Ozo even offers year-long coffee subscriptions, where two bags will be sent to your house at the beginning of every month.
From the menu, try the house special or Ozo Blend drip coffee. The French press is also absolutely worth the wait.
The atmosphere: Ozo has multiple locations: one on Pearl Street, one in East Boulder and one in Longmont. There’s a Roastery Cafe on Flatiron Court, where there’s also a roastery and training “lab.”
Wherever you can find Ozo coffee, it always seems to be busy. The Pearl Street location is not small, but you’ll be lucky to find a table. The East Boulder location is bright and open, with an impressive pastry counter (try the breakfast burritos) and a few outdoor seats to snag in warmer months. While at the shop, don’t leave without buying wholesale beans.
Even though it’s a popular spot, Ozo is known for being friendly and community-forward, with regular community events, trainings and “coffee education courses.” For example, on Feb. 24 Ozo taught Fundamental Barista Skills, covering how to make quality espresso drinks.
Ozo opened in 2007.
Claims to fame: Ozo has a training center, one of the few in the country that’s accredited via the Specialty Coffee Association of America. You can learn to roast here; sign up at ozocoffee.com/classes. The lab is also where Ozo evaluates green coffee samples, does quality control “cuppings” and tests equipment.
Men’s Journal named Ozo one of the top 25 coffee roasters in the nation. It has also been named the Best of Boulder.
Ozo’s director of retail, Greg Lefcourt, was featured in Barista Magazine in 2017.
Unique achievements: One unique thing Ozo has done is that they have created a coffee stout with Boulder Beer.
Boxcar Coffee Roasters
The coffee: Boxcar’s coffee is ethically sourced and self-roasted. You can buy it wholesale to go, too.
“Understanding the challenge of high altitude brewing, we have created a unique heating system that allows water to reach the perfect temperature. Our ‘cowboy coffee’ method allows us to steep the grounds at 203 degrees to create a perfect infusion of the coffee into the water,” Boxcar explains online.
Bean options include the Espresso Stella (bittersweet chocolate, caramel, cherry), the Winter Blend Whiskygrin (hints of sweet pipe smoke and bourbon) or the Kenya Ndaro-Ini (with flavors of rose, orange and current), to name a few. Like Ozo, Boxcar offers a coffee subscription option.
Try a cold brew. Boxcar makes our favorite one in town.
The atmosphere: Like Ozo, it has a Pearl Street Mall location, except this shop is on the east end. Boxcar shares the space with a gourmet meat counter called Cured, as well as what claims to be the tiniest wine store in Boulder and a small retail space where you can get kitchen and foodie doodads.
Boxcar’s space can be limited if it’s busy. It only has a few tables you can sit at up front, but do check in the back, too. The atmosphere is welcoming, clean and cultured, but not pretentious. It tends to be quieter than Ozo. It would be easy to pass by this spot unless you’re in the know.
Boxcar is for serious coffee lovers. Everything is handmade and intentional here, and you can feel that as soon as you walk in the door.
The Boxcar shop itself doesn’t offer a big food selection, but then why would it? It’s three steps away from the best meat and cheese counter in Boulder. (We love Cured’s sandwiches. You can also get a picnic and Americano to go.)
Worth noting: Boxcar has started offering bakery catering for pick-up, so you can order a box of pastries and almond croissants and donut holes and, well, sure, a brownie and Danish to round it off. To share. Obviously. (Right?)
There is also a Boxcar location in Denver at The Source, which Thrillst named one of the best coffee shops in Denver.
Claim to fame: The latte art here is the real deal. In fact, Boxcar holds occasional latte art throwdowns.
Boxcar is obsessed with creating the perfect cup of coffee.
Unique achievements: Due to its market-style atmosphere, you can do some great coffee-related shopping at Boxcar. Online, you can also buy coffee gear, like an AeroPress, a fancy grinder or even the mini brewer called the Technivorm 10-cup Moccamaster KBGT 741 (phew, that’s a mouthful) for $339.
Boxcar also offers coffee equipment servicing, so if your espresso machine goes on the fritz, Boxcar gurus can help you repair it, anywhere in Colorado.