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Zootown Brew

September 26, 2012

Last summer I had the honor to serve as a judge at the United States Barista Championship.  During one of the performances where I was just watching in the audience, a gentleman that I immediately recognized came in and sat right in front of me.  It was Jon Lewis, a former competitor, coffee truck veteran, and currently on staff at the Cup of Excellence, based in Missoula, Montana.  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to chat him up a bit, and he graciously gave me his card and suggested I should stop in for a visit if I ever came through Missoula.

Well, this summer we took a couple weeks to join some family at Glacier National Park in Montana, so we connected with Jon over email and set up a time to meet.  He suggested we meet up at Zootown Brew in downtown Missoula, which we did and had a fantastic conversation about life, coffee, excellence, and running a coffee truck.  It was just excellent, and of course another chance to check out the coffee program of one of Missoula’s fine shops:  ZOOTOWN BREW.

Zootown Brew in Missoula, MT

We quickly learned that Zootown is actually associated with a church that meets  in the same space.  The coffee shop is part of the church’s overall presence in the community, which helps explain their massive space.  Everything was beautiful and modern and there were plenty of great spaces to sit.  The staff was friendly and helpful, and the location was great – smack in the middle of downtown.  They are using a local roaster called blackcoffee, which Jon seemed to feel was one of the best in the area.  And the coffee was solid, if not phenomenal.  I’m quick to attribute the fact that I wasn’t blown away to regional differences in roasting profile preference, but like I say, it was solid.  Easily the best espresso I’d had in two weeks of being in Montana.  Maybe that’s like being the tallest midget, but hey, it’s something. Latte’ art was definitely lacking (nonexistent?) but I was sure happy to have something that tasted remotely like good espresso in my hands, and I had two cappuccinos to celebrate.

I have to say, the vibe is a little hokey.  They’ve invented new names for sizes (“Jumpstart”, “Longevity” and “Go-Getter”), which seems to smack of “we wanna be like Starbucks”, (along with having “Frappuccino” on the menu, which is a Starbucks trademarked name which I’m sure they don’t realize they are using illegally) and they didn’t have standardized mugs which makes it hard to be consistent with proportions and latte’ art.

But overall, I’d say if you’re in Missoula and in need of a respectable treatment of the pulverized bean, Zootown Brew might just be your best bet.  We genuinely did enjoy our visit, were treated with utmost hospitality, and will definitely be back on subsequent trips through Missoula.










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