Here are some standout specialty drinks you can try in the Biggest Little City in the World.
BY EDDIE P. GOMEZ
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Photos by Eddie P. Gomez
Reno, Nev., has more cafés per capita than just about any other place in North America. And because it is a snowier-than-usual winter in northwestern Nevada this year, there are warm coffee drinks on every corner. Undoubtedly, it feels good to immerse oneself in the comfort of seasonal drinks in a popular café.
On a recent visit to Reno, however, I decided to cast a wider net when searching for spectacular coffee drinks. Summers and winters will come and go, but the dedication to craft across a range of drinks is a philosophy with staying power.
Here are five great drinks to discover in Reno.
Hub Coffee Roasters—131 Pine St., Reno
Hub Coffee Roasters has been serving coffee in Reno since 2009. It evolved from a small, garage-based coffee shop where the bicycling community gathered, to a full-scale operation with two farms in Colombia that are helping to define the next phase of vertical integration in coffee. The idea of hospitality is one embraced by all who work at Hub Coffee Roasters; this foundational principle fosters thriving community spots at both of their Reno locations, on Riverside Avenue and Pine Street.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with owner Mark Trujillo at Hub’s Pine Street location, which keeps to its roots by sharing a space with a working bicycle shop. What was supposed to be a short meeting turned into a lengthy conversation about coffee. Throughout our talk, a parade of customers strolled over to our table to say hello to Mark. Some shared quick stories, sometimes about how they became specialty-coffee converts.
One coffee sampled at Hub remains unforgettable to me: a pourover of the Colombia Passionfruit Anaerobic. This Colombian coffee is left to ferment and take on the flavors of passionfruit. Its flavor profile is one in a million—a complex burst of fruity funkaliciousness that lingers wonderfully on the palate.
Coffeebar—1030 Haskell St., Reno
Coffeebar is housed in a repurposed 1930s garage in Reno’s trendy MidTown area. The midweek snowstorm had left a chill in its wake that called out for the warmth of a good latte when I arrived. I had imagined talking with at least a couple of baristas, but Joel had the situation under control all by himself. After mentioning my search for top coffee drinks, he smiled and said, “I got you on this.” Then we simultaneously glanced down at a tiny billboard for the Cozy Cardamom Latte. The promise of something warm and cozy sold me on the drink right away.
The latte features an intriguing contrast between vanilla notes, floral aromatics, and a peppery cardamom finish. A thin strip of cardamom on top of the latte also serves a utilitarian purpose: If the customer desires a more intense cardamom flavor, the cardamom can be stirred into the drink. Or it can be nibbled as the customer enjoys the drink to heighten each delicious sip.
When I mentioned the drink’s amazing latte art, Joel let me know that he’d won a few latte art throwdowns in his day. Then I slowly warmed up with my drink while the staff roasted coffee and people streamed in and out of the cold.
Old World Coffee Lab—104 California Ave., Reno
Stepping into Old World Coffee Lab in MidTown Reno on a dark night felt a lot like walking into the light. A nearly full house, carefully curated displays of coffee merch, and a stunning bar area made for a fabulous first impression of one of Reno’s most popular coffee destinations. That the two baristas on duty were willing to help me unpack the menu was an added bonus.
When I saw the Cold Brew Tonix on the menu, I recognized the high level of creativity at work. This was a newish twist to the practice of mixing espresso and tonic. I didn’t care that it was the middle of winter or that the menu offered equally interesting seasonal lattes. The excitement of tasting such a unique drink pushed every other option aside.
Cold brew is already known for its smooth taste, but what made the Cold Brew Tonix doubly delicious was the absence of a heavy tonic aftertaste. It was light and crisp, with a tanginess that finished mellow and sweet—a flavor combo that went down a bit easier than the finish of an espresso tonic.
I recently spoke with owner Chris Garrison about what makes the Cold Brew Tonix at Old World Coffee Lab special. He attributes much of its charm to the FireFly blend, a mix of two washed coffees—one an Ethiopian, the other a Guatemalan. He says, “It also has to do a lot with the tonic we use.” Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.’s Classic Syrup includes quinine concentrate with botanicals and cane sugar, a combination that pairs exceptionally well with cold brew. The Cafe Tonix is a unique mocktail worthy of praise.
Cafe con Papi—495 E. 6th St., Reno
In the portrait hung prominently in the café, Roberto and Maria Delgado sit at a table sipping coffee, silhouetted in front of a window in the newly opened café. Roberto had long encouraged his son Jose to go into business for himself, and it finally happened in early 2022. The result is a welcoming vibe that pulses through Cafe Con Papi, one that feels like you’re stepping into a favorite aunt’s living room. A coffee bar, plenty of comfortable seats, and colorful murals add to the laid-back atmosphere. Below the portrait, a warm pot of Café de Olla, the iconic Mexican coffee treat that is served warm and spiced, sits next to a Chemex, a snapshot that suggests the full spectrum of coffee choices at the café.
A highlight of my visit consisted of talking with Jose Delgado about the café’s Latin-inspired coffee menu. The menu’s creative design results from Jose’s explorations of coffee farms in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, as well as his time in Miami absorbing the region’s unique coffee culture.
Half an afternoon and many conversations later, I had to try the shop’s Café Cubano. The traditional method of taking the first few drops of espresso to whip a couple of tablespoons of sugar into a foamy topping called “espumita,” which is then spooned over the espresso, gives the drink a unique flavor from hydrolyzing the sugars, which differs significantly from the flavor that comes from sugar being stirred in after the espresso shot has been pulled. What made their Café Cubano special was the use of top-grade espresso. Hub Coffee Roasters’ La Loma Gloria is a naturally processed coffee from El Salvador with notes of raisin, red grape, and tangerine. It’s not a version of Café Cubano that is offered widely, which made it a rare and tasty treat.
Darkshot Coffee—inside the Renaissance hotel in Downtown Reno
Scot Munns’ interest in coffee developed on road trips with his motorcycle club. The sense of community encountered at cafés along the way fascinated him. Scot took his time when deciding to open a café, studying business plans and specialty coffee throughout northern Nevada. Darkshot Coffee, which specializes in wood-fire-roasted coffees, just celebrated the fourth anniversary of its expansive kiosk inside the Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel & Spa. In 2022, Darkshot Coffee opened a full-fledged café across the street at 300 E. Second St.
Joni, a seasoned barista, helped me find a top-notch drink during a lull in the morning rush. We decided to go off the menu with an invention of our own: a soul-boosting drink made with Ground Control Coffee Brewer espresso, Red Bull, Italian soda syrups, and ice. This Red Bull Espresso Sparkler fell on the palate like candy, a perfect overload of strawberry and mango flavors, which left plenty of room for the espresso and Red Bull to respectfully take up space in the background. I left Darkshot Coffee smacking my lips, satisfied that I’d finally tasted an exceptional Red Bull and espresso-based drink, a flavor balance that is hard to achieve.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eddie P. Gomez (he/him) is a freelance writer based in Modesto, Calif. When he is not substitute teaching kindergarten classes, he wanders from city to city, perfecting the art of the food and coffee adventure.