Tastings: Inspirational Brews Around Town

A Delight in Every Cup

By Stella Fong, Photography by Daniel Sullivan

Drinking a cup of coffee should be a moment spent to delight in deliciousness and to ponder the day ahead. For most of us, this brown liquid is gulped in desperate hope that the caffeine will jolt us into the land of the living. The brew becomes more of an injection rather than an inspiration.

Here in Billings, a cup of coffee need not originate from a commercial aluminum coffee can. These days, coffee is made both with ultra modern techniques as wellas older “retro” methods especially at specialty coffee shops. Whether from a temperature and pressure-calibrated machine or a traditional press, the perfect brew for your palate and pulse could be waiting for you right around the corner.


This time, our testers were comprised of Kathy Whittenberger, retired director of the Fortin Culinary Center and Virginia Bryan, freelance lifestyle and food writer, and current President of Art Walk Billings. The pair visited three coffee hot spots around town. Rock Creek Coffee Roasters, Sweet Café at the Billings Public Library, and Off the Leaf 19 offered varying styles of coffee in three distinct spaces.

A love for coffee ice cream initiated Whittenberger’s love of coffee. “When I was a little girl growing up in Massachusetts, my mom and friends would drink iced coffee and I would wait for them to leave. Then I could drink the leftovers.” These days, Whittenberger no longer drinks dregs of coffee. When she goes out and pays for a cup of coffee, she believes there is much more attached to buying the brew. “It is the experience of it, the conversation and ambiance. It’s supposed to be a treat.”


At all cafes, Bryan taste tested a skinny, sugar free chai or vanilla latte while Whittenberger took her java black with a bit of sweetener. At Rock Creek Coffee Roasters and Off the Leaf 19, the Tastings Team had the opportunity to try alternatively brewed black coffee aside from the espresso machine brew.  Even before sampling began, both tasters insisted on sampling their coffee served in real cups.  “I cannot stand a nice cup of coffee in a paper cup. I prefer a porcelain cup,” Bryan admits. Whittenberger believes better flavor is derived from coffee served in a glass or ceramic mug.



Right under the canopy of Sky Point, Rock Creek Coffee Roasters provides the best view of Billings’ downtown life through soaring windows.  With exposed duct work, hanging ceiling fans, wood counters and tables, a vintage air dominates. There is ample space to linger for work or conversation, but the real heart of the café is found in the back corner where a working Diedrich coffee roaster sits surrounded by canvas bags of coffee beans.

Rock Creek Coffee Roaster could easily be a café found in the Pacific Northwest, the mecca of coffee making and drinking. Not only do they roast their own beans, they offer four styles of brewing: Chemex, Aeropress, Hario and French press aside from the coffee made from their new La Marzocco espresso machine. Manager Matt Pipinich believes “Billings is becoming more sophisticated” and wants to be “lending to more choices.” In the future, they will be offering classes.


“I love to look outside as it is as urban as it can get. I like this location as it’s the epicenter to downtown. They do not have loud music so I can talk. It's good for conversation.” ~ Virginia Bryan


“The flavor of the coffee (Chemex brew) is robust but not bitter. It has a really good flavor. This is coffee you could drink gallons of because it goes down so easy. It has depth and its own sweetness.” ~ Kathy Whittenberger



From their main branch in the Heights, Sweet Café opened a satellite in the Billings Public Library a year ago. According to owner, Tanya Weinreis, “The café is really a staple for the library. The people of Billings really wanted a café in the new library.” The café is bright, colorful and clean. Situated just off the entrance corridor of the library, it has shelves filled with books for sale from the Friends of the Library.




“I love to watch coffee being made and food being cooked. In the café, there is a great view from every seat in the house. Then, if you need to read, the lighting is good. Also, the space is very kid friendly.” ~ Kathy Whittenberger


“It (the chai latte) is not too sweet and it has a nice foam.”~ ~ Virginia Bryan

“The coffee (black with sweetener) is nice and hot. I like how they put the sweetener into the coffee for me.” ~ Kathy Whittenberger


In the old Esther’s Grand Avenue Espresso space, Kelly Kovash and her father Bryan may have refashioned the interior in the style of West Elm and Pottery Bar, but the heart, the coffee roaster, from the Will and Esther Miller days remain. Located on bustling Grand Avenue, the intimate fresh space offers a reprieve. Games and crayons await young clients, while more mature ones can choose their own mug for their cup of coffee. Pick up a cup of coffee at the drive through or park in the spacious back lot and stay awhile.




“This is like being in someone’s kitchen or living room, in someone’s home.” ~ Kathy Whittenberger
“It is very cute. I like the homey feeling.” ~ Virginia Bryan


“It (the pour over) was smooth, bold and aromatic. It stood on its own, unadulterated. I am all about no fuss.” ~ Virginia Bryan


Chai latte at Rock Creek Coffee Roasters and pour over black coffee at Off the Leaf 19 ~ Virginia Bryan

Black coffee with a little sweetener at Rock Creek Coffee Roasters ~ Kathy Whittenberger


The varied ways to grab a great cup


Aeropress is a tubular system where ground coffee that has been steeped with hot water is forced through a disc shaped paper or metal filter, working in principal like a syringe.

Chemex® is a one-piece, hourglass shaped glass vessel that sports a polished wood collar and a leather tie. This hot water pour over system for drip coffee calls for a special Chemex® paper filter and regular ground coffee.

An Espresso Machine forces pressurized hot water through a “puck” of ground coffee and a filter to make thick, concentrated espresso.

French Press is a piston coffee making system with a metal screen secured with a rod in a glass cylinder. The coffee is made by plunging the screen down and through hot water that has steeped with ground coffee.

Hario is a pour over drip technique coffee maker with special paper or cloth filters.



Rock Creek Coffee Roasters
124 N 28th St in Billings

ON THE WEB: facebook.com/rockcreekcoffee

Sweet Café at the Billings Public Library
510 N Broadway in Billings or 595 Main Street in the Heights
ON THE WEB: SweetCafeMT.com

Off the Leaf 19 and Big Sky Coffee Roasters
1939 Grand Ave in Billings



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