The Caffeine Blues: Novo Offers Quality a Cut Above
by Greg Rawlings, Marshall Snider
ovo Coffee offers mild espresso, wonderful teas, great music, and interesting people-watching. This unique establishment sits on the pedestrian plaza at the Civic Center Cultural Complex, across from the Denver Art Museum. Located on Acoma between 12th and 13th avenues, Novo is still far enough from the street to provide a quiet café experience. This is also a convenient spot for civil litigators and government supplicants, just a couple of blocks from the City and County Building and the state Capitol.
I tried the café mocha. I always drink café mocha, to provide consistency in these reviews, and because I am a chocolate addict. Novo’s was the best mocha I have had, anywhere—very mild and creamy. At first I thought that they used some special chocolate, but the baristas explained that this great taste resulted from their choice of beans and their method of roasting. According to these coffee experts (and this would be a good place to go if you ever need an expert witness on espresso), they roast their beans just to the point of extracting the most flavor. Roasting any further results in the somewhat bitter taste you can get at a chain coffeehouse, like Starbucks, Peet’s, or Dazbog. Although those espressos will certainly do, Novo’s offerings are a cut above.
Novo also offers a menu of organic teas grown in Bangladesh using sustainable green technology. As The Docket’s designated tea drinker, I couldn’t resist returning to Novo for a cup. The choices ranged from ginger herbal infusion to lemon grass to neem nectar tea (made from the subcontinent’s neem tree, of course), white tea, and several black teas. I sampled the Bengal Breakfast Tea, which was delicious. It was rich, full-bodied, and absolutely lacking in the acidic taste that plagues many black teas. Putting sugar in this tea should be a crime.
I enjoyed my tea to a background soundtrack that could have come off of my iPod: Traveling Wilburys, Rolling Stones, Don McLean, Rod Stewart, and my favorite Crosby, Stills and Nash song, "Wasted on the Way" (OK, I know that some good music has been produced since 1989, but I’ll stick to the classics).
One thing Novo lacks is much of a pastry assortment. They offered some brownies, but I opted for the Almond Chocolate Chip Granola Bar, which is touted as gluten free, dairy free, and vegan. As tasty as that sounds (who needs gluten, anyway), it was a bit dry and lacking in punch.
My verdict: With great coffees, teas, and music, Novo beats the pants off of the chain coffee shops.
Among Denver coffee snobs, the usual argument is Novo vs. Pablo’s. Both make excellent coffees by showing unusual attention to detail, especially in the roasting. Both have staffers who really know the ins and outs of the coffee they sell, and are colorful characters that maximize the coffee house experience.
Marshall and I hit Novo on a pleasantly slow day after I had munched down on a great food truck arepa (Quiero Arepas) at Civic Center Park. We copped a nice seat on the patio across from the DAM and watched tourists as they floated through the plaza. I tend to order espresso when I go to Novo, but that day I opted for an Americano, with a splash of half-and-half and a packet of raw sugar. It was just what the doctor (and my caffeine addiction) ordered. Rich, smooth, with a nice mouth-pleasing afterglow.
Novo until recently also had stands in the DAM. The upside of the stands was, of course, the art; the upside of the shop is the outdoor patio. Also, the shop itself abuts a Mad Greens, so you can kill two birds with one stone if you’re hungry. Another big plus for the shop is that it has a wine and cheese bar beside it, which serves an excellent happy hour menu. Basically, if you were of a mind, you could have Novo’s coffee for breakfast, a Mad Greens salad or panini for lunch, and then hit the wine and cheese bar to finish out your day without ever leaving the one big space that houses them. Even I am not that pathetic, but it is a possibility.
My verdict: I give a big yes to Novo’s experience, though I do miss the catalog of coffees and the beans they used to keep out for their customers perusal. D