Helena’s Guide to Coffee

Coffee beans

Coffee beans

Let’s face it, coffee is a savior.

Bioactive compounds in your French Roast make you stay on the ball, and it reduces the risk for clogged arteries and heart attacks, because it lowers the levels of coronary artery calcium.

Coffee is also the perfect antidote to ward off gloominess on a snowy, overcast April day. More good news: Coffee is also gaining ground among medical experts who support its major health benefits and say it can protect against heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, even if it is decaffeinated.

While researchers sort out the data in order to understand the positive effects coffee has on our health, we can continue to savor the bevy of brewed goods. Several places in Helena serve up a great cup of the delicious, dark substance, but it might require sampling a variety of beans and roasts until you find a taste to your liking. Here’s an inventory of some local opportunities to guide you along the way.




Sipped from lovely, locally-produced pottery, most of Firetower’s coffees are “Certified Organic and Fair Trade,” harvested from land without synthetic pesticides or other prohibited substances for three years. In summary, a substantial safeguard exists between the organic coffee and the nearest non-organic crop. Fair Trade coffee guarantees Firetower’s beans are purchased directly from the growers for a higher price than standard coffee, and coffee farmers receive a reasonable wage for their labor.

All of Firetower’s beans are roasted in a machine called an Emmerich Probat, which is a German roaster. In addition to a better taste, small roasters such as Firetower have access to limited, select crop harvests. Unroasted, raw coffee beans are pale green in color, and Firetower purchases about three or four bags of these at once. The burlap sacks, which contain the beans, cost $500 to $600 apiece and weigh between 130 and 150 pounds. They convey no flavor or aroma and are hard as bricks.

Firetower’s signature blends include the rich-bodied and flavorfully balanced Brazilian Severino, a medium-light roast, originating on the slopes of the volcanic mountains in the Sierra Madre. The Firetower Blend is a medium, dark-roast shade, grown in the high mountains of Chiapas, Mexico by a farmer’s co-operative. Fragrant and smooth, it’s a favorite in the making. Mount Helena Blend is a dark roast of South American coffees, boasting a soft yet nutty and smoky essence.

Address: 422 N. Last Chance Gulch

Phone: (406) 495-8840

Hours: Monday – Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; Saturday, 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; closed Sunday

General Mercantile

General Mercantile

General Mercantile

The General Mercantile serves up a delicious cup of coffee comprised of beans from Oregon’s Longbottom Coffee and Tea Company. Longbottom sources hot-air roasts and high-quality specialty coffee from all over the world, because they believe that everyone should be able to enjoy and savor the finest premium coffee available.

Enjoying a cup of coffee in the 43-year-old ‘Merc’ is as much about stepping back into western lore as it is about sipping java. Resembling a general store from the Old West, the Merc is equipped with gourmet coffee and abundant nostalgia. In addition to coffee, slide into a cozy booth to sip a warm latte, hot cocoa, or an old-fashioned soda. Another added attraction: feeding the koi pond, which is 150-gallon horse trough with many small koi and one large one named Merky. If you are into characters and the potential of an offbeat conversation or two, sit back at the counter with a no-frills cafeteria mug of coffee and find out what emerges.

Red Atlas (Staggering Ox)

In the back of the Staggering Ox, the Red Atlas offers a delectable array of beverage choices. To understand the Ox, you first need to understand the Ox sandwich, meaning you have to start with the bread. Whether you go with French, whole wheat, dill, or garlic parmesan, it’s the physical form of the bread that’s unique. Baked in a cylindrical shape and hollowed out, the Clubfoot is a registered trademark of the Ox, which has locations in Helena, Billings and Missoula, as well as in Spokane, Washington. A twelve ounce coffee at Red Atlas costs $1.75. ($1.95 for 16 ounces; $2.25 for 20 ounces.) The ambiance is quiet, the chairs are comfortable, and the coffee is strong. The Red Atlas delivers the two most adoring words in the prolific coffee drinker’s lexicon: free refills.

Address: 400 Euclid Ave

Phone: (406) 443-1729

Hours: Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday and Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

The Dive Bakery

The Dive Bakery is a tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it place along 11th Avenue. With an interesting, colorful, decorative scheme and warm, inviting atmosphere, it is a great place to kick back. The Dive has proudly served Helena since 2005, offering specialty baked goods, coffee, as well as a full assortment of fresh soups, salads, sandwiches and crepes.

Address: 1609 11th Ave

Phone: (406) 442-2802

Hours: Monday-Friday, 6:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.; Saturday, 7:00 am-3:00 p.m.; closed Sunday.

Park Avenue Bakery

Park Avenue Bakery welcomes customers with a milieu of fresh bread, buns, rolls, pizza, and tantalizing treats that fill the display cases. Window stools offer a nice opportunity to browse the newspaper or enjoy the simple pleasures of eating, sipping, and tasting. Established 25 years ago, Park Avenue Bakery is the quintessential downtown experience, a convenient stop before or after embarking on your favorite local hiking or biking excursion.

Address: 44 South Park Avenue

Phone: (406) 449-8424

Hours: Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Hub Coffee

Hub Coffee

Hub Coffee

Inviting, vivid, light, and attractive, Hub Coffee takes a sincere approach to coffee roasting. Roasted in small batches, the Hub offers artisan coffee and espresso drinks, as well as loose leaf teas and fruit smoothies. The Hub’s covered patio is the seamless place to enjoy the sights of downtown Helena.

Address: 314 Last Chance Gulch

Phone: (406) 422-1102

Hours: Monday to Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Vanilla Bean Bakery

Vanilla Bean Bakery and Cafe started in November 2008. Since then, it has become noted for its breakfast pastries, lunches, and high-quality desserts. The coffee is a tasty accompaniment to a traditional breakfast burrito, a scone, a cinnamon or caramel roll, or the house baked oatmeal.

Phone: (406) 443-2257

Address: 201 N. Rodney

Hours: Monday to Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Saturday, 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., closed Sunday.

Scenic Brew

Scenic Brew Coffee Spot

Scenic Brew Coffee Spot

Many folks swear that Scenic Brew provides the tastiest coffee in Helena. Scenic Brew operates under the mantra that the highest quality of coffee needs to have a tantalizing aroma, richness of body, delicacy of flavor, as well as clarity and individuality. In short, Scenic Brew believes in precision and process, utilizing equipment and methods that enhance quality and taste. Meticulous roasting techniques are tailored to ensure high-quality beans that are sourced from all over the world. Noted for its friendly baristas, rustic appearance, and cozy ambiance, Scenic Brew smoothly rounds out our list of local coffee connections.

Address: 3091 N. Sanders Street, Suite E

Phone: (406) 204-0150

Hours: Monday to Saturday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • A very nice heart-warming article. I remember the days of the Wyoming Coffee Company in Casper–great coffee and snacks and also a great poetry reading series in the evenings. But. alas, Wyoming Coffee Company is part of the snows of yesteryear–ou sont les neiges d’antan?

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