Las Vegas will always be a cocktalian’s destination, but for many students, conference-goers and night crawlers craving fuel for a nocturnal buzz, there’s another drink in town that’s coveted for its power to blur night into day—coffee. Here, in the real city that never sleeps, coffee culture has long lacked alcohol’s clout and notoriety. Not anymore. Game-changing brewers are selling the freshly ground, single-serving, hand-poured cups that many tourists drink in their coffee-cultured hometowns (Seattle, Portland and New York, to name a few) and seek out when they’re in ours.
And boy, is Vegas doing it in style: roasters let voyeurs watch beans turn green to brown; siphons brew, suck and drip caffeinated magic into cups; pour-overs take the hurry out of grab-and-go; and there’s something called a steampunk that just sounds rad. “In 2008, no one was doing what we call ‘third-wave’ coffee [a term for producing coffee more creatively than drip],” says Joshua Walter. Today, Walter and business partner Juanny Romero roast, brew and sell wholesale their own all-organic beans at Sunrise Coffee, a locals favorite for its pour-over method and communal vibe.
Sambalatte (now with three locations), founded by Luiz Oliveira, was a far cry from the big-box brewers Las Vegans had been depending on. Oliveira, a Brazilian-born coffee drinker who remembers developing a taste for coffee around age 6, grew up enamored with Rio de Janeiro’s Confeitaria Colombo for both its elegance and swank-served coffee. As an adult, he put to use his lifelong food and beverage background (and a hefty part of his savings) into his dream of re-creating a Confeitaria-esque place for Las Vegans that honored the behind-the-scenes work of serving a nuanced cup.
“Back in September 2010 when we first opened, there were probably only two other coffee chains in town,” says Oliveira, recalling the European tourists who would taxi 20 minutes from their Strip-based hotel to Boca Park in the northwest part of town for Sambalatte’s more European-style coffee. “Right now there are almost 30. So we really cultivated a culture that didn’t exist.”
Among his coffee-serving contemporaries, Oliveira’s attention to detail has earned him the distinction of “pioneer” for shaping Las Vegas’ taste in coffee. “I think Sambalatte, respectfully, put Las Vegas coffee on the map, and [the coffee culture] is only going to grow,” says Kalani Wright, a farmer and roaster who is a partner and founder of Micro Greenhouse (“The Greenhouse” to locals) in Downtown Las Vegas. He sells his company’s cold-brew coffee, Garcia’s, from what he describes as a “coffee speakeasy” on East Charleston Boulevard that is open to the community most mornings. The company is growing and will start selling its cold-brew bottles in a few Downtown restaurants in the spring.
Will bolder spirits always prevail in Vegas? Probably. But to satisfy folks who take their brew seriously, the city’s coffee culture continues to grow stronger. Tastier, too, says Walter, an espresso fan who advocates a more natural way to watch dusk turn to dawn: “You don’t have to slug a Red Bull.”