Almost every morning, downtown workers Emily Barlow and Jamie Gerber leave the law firm for which they work and head across the street to Starbucks in Gallivan Center. Usually, they're in search of a chai latte or, now that fall has arrived, a pumpkin spice latte.
Barlow and Gerber, a legal secretary and receptionist for Eisenberg Gilchrist & Morton, are not alone. It's a morning ritual for millions of Americans, who can choose from the more than 24,000 coffeehouses across the country.
Whether grabbing a quick cup and a bite to eat on the way into the office or taking a morning break with colleagues, downtown Salt Lake City has plenty to offer when the time comes for a caffeinated pick-me-up.
In its unscientific survey of area coffeehouses, the Deseret Morning News found 13 locations between First Avenue and 600 South and 500 East and West Temple. The shops vary in size and style, and their prices and selection vary. Of the coffee shops visited by the Morning News, the price for a 20-ounce cup of drip coffee ranged from $1.75 to $2.50.
Of course, the choices expand greatly when factoring in the many fast-food locations, convenience stores, bakeries and full-service restaurants within the same approximate 2-square-mile radius.
The locations appeal to different types of customers, usually based on where they work and live and how they want to receive their morning brew. Folks looking to grab it and go often visit drive-through locations such as Raw Bean Coffee House on the southwestern edge of downtown or Java Jo's in the Avenues.
On any given morning, cars line up around the small coffee shack on First Avenue and E Street. Co-owner Chad Corbin, who's been selling coffee in the Salt Lake Valley for more than a decade, knows his regulars not by name, but by vehicle.
"We've always had a core group of customers," Corbin said. "By the time they pull up to the window, most of the time we've got their drink ready for them."
Corbin and his brother, Ryan, moved from Idaho in the mid-1990s to start their business. At the time, there were just two other drive-through coffee shops in the area, and the two men believed they had found a largely untapped market.
They opened the window at their Murray shop in January 1996, doing $60 in business that first day. From there, Java Jo's has grown to three locations with two more in the works.
"They're thriving and they're booming and they're constantly busy," Corbin said.
It's no wonder that Salt Lake coffeehouses do strong business. Nationwide, it's a $29.3 billion market, and Americans are far and away the biggest consumer of coffee in the world, according to the National Coffee Association.
Daily coffee consumption is at its highest level in more than two decades and recently became the second-most popular beverage in the United States after water, according to the trade association.
John Bolton was one of the first to get into the Utah market some 25 years ago. A chef at Snowbird in 1981, Bolton began roasting his own coffee beans because he grew "tired of having great food and mediocre coffee."
Two years later, Bolton opened his retail shop, Salt Lake Roasting Co., on 400 South in downtown Salt Lake City. At a time when there were no other coffee roasters between Denver and San Francisco, and in a state whose religious majority rejects coffee, it was an unlikely location to start such a business.
Salt Lake Roasting Co. is now considered the oldest coffee shop in Salt Lake City, and Bolton likes to think he became somewhat of a "countercultural symbol."
"I think if you find a good quality product, you'll find a market for it," Bolton said.
And while he's not surprised at the number of coffeehouses that have opened along the Wasatch Front since he first entered the market, Bolton is a little shocked at the number of coffee roasters that now exist in Utah.
"To actually have seven or eight roasters in the greater Salt Lake area, that's quite surprising," he said. "I don't know quite how to explain it.
"Obviously, there is a demand for coffee products."
And it's not just overworked executives looking for a morning shot of caffeine to get them through the day. According to the National Coffee Association, 74 percent of Americans over the age of 60 drink coffee, compared to 44 percent of those between the ages of 25 and 39 and 61 percent of those 40 to 59 years old.
Traditional coffee remains the most popular type overall, with gourmet coffee and espresso-based beverages more popular among the college-aged crowd.
Coffeehouses like the Salt Lake Roasting Co. and nearby Salt Lake Coffee Break cater to University of Utah students with free Internet access and late hours, with the latter staying open until 3 a.m. on weekends.
The downtown Coffee Garden, inside Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore, is a popular gathering place throughout the day for downtown workers, students and others to sit, talk and read.
Clearly, Corbin said, it is a market that spans all demographics."They're every walk of life," he said of his customers. "They're college students, they're moms, they're lawyers, they're doctors. Kids getting smoothies. Grandmas, grandpas."
E-mail: [email protected]