By Lucy Burningham, New York Times --

In a place known more for proximity to powdery ski slopes than perfect espresso pulls, it’s easy to assume Salt Lake City couldn’t breed advanced coffee geek culture. Yet the high-desert city has become the kind of town where some cafes sell 12 ounces of roasted coffee beans for $50 and teach customers about the benefits of drinking coffee without cream or sugar.

The current coffee pioneers, who overwhelmingly prefer small-batch, direct-sourced light roasts, are working their trade everywhere from unassuming warehouses in South Salt Lake to one new spacious shrine to modern coffee drinking in downtown’s Central Ninth neighborhood. Some fire up drum roasters — forcing raw, green coffee beans to adopt hues of toffee, caramel and rich earth — while others operate lab-like coffee makers that seem capable of extracting a nuanced flavor from sand.

Coffee roasting isn’t new in this city of more than 191,000 residents; Salt Lake Roasting Company and Millcreek Coffee Roasters have been doing it for decades. But the emerging coffee craze is more closely intertwined with the farm-to-table movement, said Joseph Evans, the tattooed founder of Nobrow Coffee Werks ( Because of the city’s large Mormon population — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints forbids members to drink coffee or tea — there’s always been a stereotype that there are not a lot of coffee drinkers, said Mr. Evans, who is no longer affiliated with Nobrow. “But we’re a growing metropolitan area with a strong culture of food,” he said.

Squeeze into Nobrow’s compact, minimalist west-side coffee shop in the Central Ninth neighborhood or spread out on its concrete patio, where customers sip cups of brewed-to-order coffee and play chess in the afternoon sunshine. The cafe carries a rotation of coffees from well-known national roasters, including Intelligentsia Coffee and Ritual Coffee Roasters, as well as locally based Blue Copper Roasters ( Blue Copper Roasters sells pour-overs and cold brew coffee at the Winter Market at Rio Grande Depot on Saturdays and from a cargo bicycle outside Diabolical Records on Friday nights.

One large Salt Lake City block from Nobrow, the long-anticipated Publik Coffee Roasters ( opened in May in a 12,000-plus-square-foot building that once housed a lithographer. The cafe attracts coffee aficionados, university students and weekday workers with laptops. A riff off the Dutch word for “community,” the chic Publik is made up of a dual-level cafe with mezzanine seating, a roastery and an event space. The cafe is decked out with reclaimed materials, including salvaged steam pipe from eastern Utah oil fields, wood from an old church organ and beams from a ranch barn once owned by Bill Gates. You can watch a 12-kilo Diedrich roaster churn out the mostly single-origin coffee served on site, while smelling only what’s in your cup thanks to a high-tech filtration system.