Finding the perfect cup of coffee in Grass Valley, Nevada City and Truckee-Tahoe

SPECIALTY COFFEE ROASTERS, RETAILERS and coffeehouses are booming in the foothills and Sierra, enhancing our culinary scene, creating new community gathering places and bolstering the region’s economy.

Coffeehouses in Grass Valley and Nevada City sell award-winning “third wave” Temple Coffee from Sacramento. On the ski slopes of Northstar at the Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe, Café Blue offers award-winning Blue Bottle Coffee from San Francisco.

Some are pioneers of the artisan coffee movement, such as Carolines Coffee Roasters in Grass Valley and Alpen Sierra Coffee in the Lake Tahoe area, among others.

In 1984, Caroline Fike, her husband Chuck and son Trace, saw a niche market for coffee in the foothills. Their impetus was an inability to get fresh coffee.

Chuck and Trace traveled to Southern California to learn the roasting process under Carl Ernst Diedrich, a German immigrant who was a pioneer in America’s specialty coffee roasting industry. The Fikes bought one of Diedrich’s first commercial roasters, an IR12 in 1984 and brought it back to Grass Valley.

In the early days, Trace logged up to 85,000 miles a year to market Carolines’ coffee to small grocery stores and businesses around the state, from Redding to Yosemite and points in between. “We were roasting coffee and delivering it the same day, for the ultimate flavor,” says Trace.

In 1998, the Fikes upgraded to a Diedrich IR24 to handle all the new business. Nowadays, Trace roasts the coffee five days a week on the IR24, totaling up to 12,000 lbs. a month. Chuck and Caroline have retired, and the managers are Trace’s wife Holly and her sister Becky Miller, along with Trace.

Carolines carries a wide assortment of coffees from around the world: organic, fair-trade, decaf and more. You can find its coffee in 10 grocery stores within a 40-mile radius, and more than 100 different other businesses, including restaurants, offices, hotels and schools.

The coffeehouse has an extensive hot and cold drinks menu, along with soups, salads and sandwiches. It also sells teas, candies, coffee supplies and accessories, along with its legendary gift baskets.

Other Specialty Coffee Pioneers

Besides Carolines, Sierra Mountain Coffee Roasters was established in 1985 in Grass Valley. Sierra Mountain Coffee Roasters purchases organic specialty coffee beans, and it air roasts the beans in small batches four times per week.

Sierra specialty coffee pioneers include Christian Waskiewicz, who was inspired to create Alpen Sierra Coffee Company in Lake Tahoe. Serving its first cup of coffee in an historic log cabin on the South Shore in 1991.

Along with the pioneers, other artisan coffeehouses—from the foothills to Truckee-Tahoe—are opening or expanding rapidly.

This summer, Brew Bakers Family Cafe opened on Mill Street in historic Grass Valley, offering “third wave” Temple Coffee. “We’re excited and honored to be partnered with such a leader,” says owner Robin Spencer.

Across the street from Brew Bakers, a local startup called Fable Coffee is opening its first store this winter, next to the Art Deco-style Del Oro Theatre. Fable operates a popular coffee cart at the Nevada City Farmers Market.

In Grass Valley, Summer Thyme’s offers free-trade, organic specialty coffees, thanks to a new Italian-made La Marzocco espresso machine. Its baristas are regionally well known for their creative latte art.

In downtown Truckee, Coffeebar has built a loyal following. Since opening its Truckee location in 2010, Coffeebar has become an integral part of the community. Last year Coffeebar opened a second coffeehouse in southwest Reno.

Truckee also recently became home to Dark Horse Coffee Roasters, which offers coffee in cold-brew, French press, and pour-over styles in a stylish coffeehouse. Its co-owner grew up on Kauai, surrounded by coffee fields.

(Photo: Cole Cuchna for Temple Coffee)

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