I have to start out by saying Coffee Lab has since closed. I had such a great experience visiting that I have decided to still write a review of the shop. I hope you will take the time to read and appreciate my adventure. Coffee Lab closed on March 16th, 2020, saying goodbye to hundreds of coffee friends they made over the past four years. They wrote on Instagram, “It has been such a gratifying pleasure to make you all coffee. We will be back one day to make you coffee again. Love, Simon, Joey, and Coffee Lab.” Please enjoy my review below.
One of my most interesting and fun experiences involved a college, coffee, and pharmacy school. When I interview coffee shops I’ll ask them for recommendations for other coffee shops that I should check out. I enjoy doing this because small coffee shops and the baristas are such a tight-knit community that most baristas have worked in multiple coffee shops. While I was in Salt Lake City I kept writing Coffee Lab down in my notes and heard from other shops that Simon is an awesome guy. I planned a trip there first thing on Monday, October 28, 2020.
University of Utah Pharmacy
Believe it or not, this coffee shop is located in the pharmacy building of The University of Utah – how freaking cool! Although I’d been to 50 coffee shops, I had no idea what one in a pharmacy school would look like. With tons of permit-only parking spots, as typical of college campuses, I had an issue finding a place to park; especially with my massive van that couldn’t fit in the low-roofed parking garage. About a mile and a half away on a side street, I found a place that I think was allowed. I grabbed my skateboard and skated to the pharmacy building, just like I did in undergrad. Dodging students, sticks, rocks, sidewalks, and cars – this was a lot to deal with before having a coffee!
After getting quite a workout in, I found little cute signs that read “Need Coffee?” pointing me to Coffee Lab. I can’t imagine what students wouldn’t! I headed inside and was immediately greeted by two girls, Christina and Makensi, asking me if I would like to purchase spaghetti and meatballs to help support the Maliheh Free Clinic. After having lived in a van for months, spaghetti and meatballs sounded great. They were made even better as they helped a good cause. I found out that the Maliheh Free Clinic is reversing the cycle of poverty and suffering created by poor health, by providing free quality medical care to low income and uninsured Utah families. If you’re reading this and would like to support, here’s the link.
I headed upstairs to the right and experienced one of the neatest coffee shops, Coffee Lab. Simon greeted me; we immediately began discussing travel, coffee, photography, and van life. We had so much in common, we were going a mile a minute comparing stories. But I’ll tell you more about that later in the article. Simon was the co-owner of Coffee Lab. He ran the coffee side of things while his partner, Joey Mantia, ran the business side. Coffee Lab was three-and-a-half years old back when I was visiting.
The story goes, the pharmacy building coffee shop was previously owned by La Barba and Simon ran it. When La Barba decided to close, Simon seized the opportunity to open his own shop in this spot, how cool! It was perfect for a coffee shop; there are tons of restrooms in this building, WIFI, and wonderful places to sit and study.
Simon lit up when we started discussing coffee. You could tell it was something he was extremely passionate about. He had all sorts of coffee drinks I had never heard of; for example, alado, mixto, and the confrio. He laughed when I made a confused look. I chuckled and said, “I’ll have an espresso please.” I knew it was a safe answer. But after I saw what the girl next to me ordered, I should’ve gone with that. Her drink was called the Confrio, a mixture of cold milk and espresso in a double-walled, hourglass looking cup. The milk is poured in, then the fresh espresso is carefully pulled on top of the milk, causing a balancing act. Watching the espresso fall down and mix into the milk was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. The drink allows you to taste the full flavor of espresso and as you are drinking, the cold milk will burst through the crema causing the most delightful sip of coffee you’ll ever have. One of the most unique drinks I’ve seen yet.
Simon changed up the roasters occasionally; he was big on supporting coffee roasters in two aspects. He chose one in-state brand, Blue Copper Salt Lake City, and one out-of-state brand, Campos Coffee Australia. The espresso I had was from Blue Copper, their Ethiopian roast and it was tasty.
Simon was super creative and just smart. He never came out and said it or even hinted at this but I could tell. I walked around Coffee Lab taking pictures of everything I could and asking questions about the things that stood out to me. I’m going to tell you a few. First, there is a PlayStation One on the shelf. I wondered why – kind of random for a coffee shop in today’s time. He told me, “It makes a great CD player, hooked up to some speakers, and it’s super clear.” Second, he took his time making every drink. You could tell how much effort he put into everything he did. Third, although the coffee shop was very minimal, he had great touches, like the caution tape on the floor, a handwritten menu that looked like someone’s notes, and industrial lighting. It all helped tie into the fact that we were standing in the U of U pharmacy building without going overboard. Lastly, he asked me and some friends I had met during the interview if we liked ice cream, to which we all replied, “Of course!” He walked into the freezer and pulled out a Tupperware and three spoons. Here’s the picture… now guess what this ice cream could be.
If you guessed Bayleaf bitters ice cream with pomegranate molasses and olive oil on top, you are correct. Sounds crazy but he told us he’d been experimenting with the flavor contrasts and I have to say… He nailed it! I know he made it just for fun, but I would buy a gallon of this if he sold them! It was freaking delicious. Not in a million years could I ever be as innovative as Simon. Great job man, I really enjoyed my visit.
Really Cool Guy
He told me that he too had done van life for two-and-a-half years in a 2001 Chevy Astro. He topped my traveling adventures when he pulled out a book and said, “Here, look at some of my photography.” I immediately responded that these were images of the Pacific Coast Trail as if he didn’t know. He told me he solo-hiked it in 2017 with a camera and his one rule: No cellphone. DAMN! The PCT has been on my bucket list for years, but I cannot even imagine going on a four-month hike with no cellphone. During his hike, he encountered that massive snowstorm we had in 2017; from the energy in his voice, it must’ve been crazy! I could’ve stayed there all day and talked adventure with him. He is a genuinely nice guy and I’m really glad I stopped in.
It’s always fun meeting people that are getting coffee at the coffee shops I visit. Sometimes they’ll smile or tell me that they would love to travel and visit coffee shops like me. But during my visit to Coffee Lab I made friends. Meet Emi and Carissa. Emi is in pharmacy school here at the University of Utah and she is extremely smart and talented. She is the class representative and helped organize the fundraising efforts of the Maliheh Free Clinic I discussed earlier. She frequented Coffee Lab often for her delicious energy boost. Carissa is also at school here, studying to be a mechanical engineer with awesome art skills. She designed me an awesome sticker collaboration of Find that Coffee and Salt Lake City. We talked for a while about coffee, travels, and van life. They were really cool people and we are still friends today. I said goodbye to them and skated to the bookstore to get a U of U sticker to remember the awesome time I had at the University of Utah!
The bathrooms were owned and managed by the University of Utah. This makes it difficult to rate them towards Coffee Lab, but they were immaculately clean. I’m sure the design and materials cost more than some of the coffee shops I’ve been in. For this, I’m going to rate the bathrooms separately, I will give them an 8/10 for being “too clean.”