There are surely some slippery slopes involved when someone ups their coffee interest from the occasional cup to thrice-daily triple shots of high-quality coffee. But where better to satiate that thirst than at an espresso and cold brew bar built into a vintage ski gondola?
For coffee-loving outdoor enthusiasts and event-goers throughout Colorado, a new coffee outfit called Fitzroy Coffee Company is serving specialty espresso, manual brews and tapped coffees from inside a retired gondola that once soared over slopes at the Winter Park Ski Resort. Now detached from its cable and freshly branded with the Fitzroy name, the gondola is free to roam thanks to a custom trailer design.
“Attaching it to a standard trailer would’ve been a nightmare for towing safety, not to mention we wouldn’t have had the same customer experience,” Fitzroy Owner Chad Person told Daily Coffee News. “We can stand face to face with customers, and take the gondola into very small spaces, [including] indoors via a standard double door or a freight elevator.”
Person undertook the initial design for the rebuild himself after learning about the availability of 1980s-era reclaimed gondolas about a year ago. He then worked shoulder to shoulder with a local fabricator for roughly two months to create the lightweight yet reinforced micro coffee truck and custom trailer. Baristas inside the tight but meticulously planned space perform their duties on different equipment, depending on the gig.
“We have a diverse collection of equipment designed to hot swap based on the event and crowd that we’re serving,” said Person. “We can do anything from pourovers to nitro cold brew nitro on tap to a full espresso bar. The actual floor space is quite small, but the sides bow out in all directions, which has given us ample space to mount equipment and storage under the counter tops.”
Gear includes Hario and Chemex manual brewers, and Casadio and Lucca M58 for espresso machinery paired with a Macap grinder. There are lights inside, an illuminated sign on the roof, hot and cold water sinks, a small fridge and onboard audio. Fitzroy even fits a Ripple Maker machine into the mix to print images, messages or logos onto the surface of any foam-topped drink.
“You might think it would get too tight to work,” said Person, “but every inch was carefully considered, so it’s like being inside a well designed cockpit.”
Fitzroy builds upon Person’s background as a coffee enthusiast and home roaster, while also appealing to his passion for snowboarding. Currently, Person roasts for Fitzroy coffees on a 3-kilo-capacity electric drum roaster in a facility in Golden, Colorado, close to the mountains that provide the company and its owner with recreation and inspiration.
“Offsetting the electricity with renewable energy is really important to us, and I am hoping we will see a shift away from gas with larger roasters,” said Person. “Roasting starts with the land, the mountains, the growers. You can’t protect it if you focus on growth and profit. As roasters, we need to think about the beans we will have access to in five generations’ time.”
Person’s pre-Fitzroy occupation as a full-time web developer is also an influence on the roastery, in a contrary sort of way.
“While I’m an avid technologist, I’m not a fan of monitoring the roast by computer,” said Person. “I much prefer to write my measurements out by hand, [and] listen, watch and work the tryer, making adjustments as required. I roast with intention, meticulously pull individual defects out one by one, and cup religiously.”
Profiles tend to land on the lighter side at Fitzroy, whose offerings emphasize single-origin coffees and seasonality.
“I really try to give each bean its day in the sun, regardless of what I’m roasting,” said Person. “[I’m] always looking to be surprised or impressed by the season. If you can recall specific shots of espresso or cups of coffee you drank 20 years ago, you know what I am talking about.”
Next month, the company’s first subscription sales for limited runs of whole beans will launch. Roasting for the larger wholesale market is not a priority for Fitzroy, according to Person, who prefers to focus on simply supplying the gondola, friends and a handful of smaller clients. While a brick-and-mortar cafe is one potential route forward, there could also, perhaps alternatively, come another Fitzroy coffee gondola or two.
“The amazing thing about this moment in time is that people all over are rediscovering craft coffee and can access exceptional experiences in the cup that my grandparents could not,” Person said. “This may be the best time in history to love coffee, or this may be just the beginning.”