There’s something unexplainably mystical about Santa Fe, New Mexico. The often-cloudless sky is a deeper shade of blue and it is absolutely massive, dwarfing the snow-capped mountains that circumscribe the small desert town. With only 70,000 inhabitants—many of whom trace their lineage back here before “here” was America—Santa Fe is more artist colony than state capital (though it is both). Perhaps it is this mix of geography and culture that imparts upon this magical place its energy, one that can’t be described, only experienced.
Yet, in this land of cowboys and creatives—both of whom have been known for their caffeinated affinities—the taste for really good coffee is still in its nascent stages. Enter Iconik Coffee Roasters, a specialty oasis that is bringing a new level of coffee quality to Santa Fe while staying rooted in local tradition.
The building Iconik inhabits is itself an expression of Santa Fe culture. The sand-colored stucco exterior is made to resemble adobe and is reminiscent of more classical Pueblo architecture. Using modern building materials to resemble older Southwestern styles is commonplace in Santa Fe, often being referred to as “faux-dobe.” The pallid native flora around the building is tall and spindly, making for a well-guarded and rather intimidating entry.
Once inside, though, Iconik’s feel is much softer and more inviting. The big windows pump in a lot of natural light to interplay with the concrete countertops and various patinated metalwork, creating a lived-in warmth. The proverbial centerpiece (which sits in the corner of the shop) is the still-functioning mechanical marvel that is Iconik’s 1928 Otto Swadlo roaster. Co-owner Sean Ham has made a few modifications to bring the Austrian-made 30-kilogram roaster into the 21st century, from standard moves like relocating the probes and adding Cropster to funkier updates like custom-fabricating an adjustable air damper and devising a system to increase drum-rotation speed. “The great thing about working on an older machine is that there are no circuit boards in your way to finding a solution if something goes wrong,” Ham told me. “The logic is in the gears, belts, and pulleys right in front of you.”
The behemoth old roaster adds to Iconik’s very “coffeehouse” vibe. It feels like a throwback to when cafes tried to be that third place, where spaces were more a function of their clientele than hallowed halls of coffee worship. When I visited one early afternoon, for instance, Iconik had a live musical act, a straight-up seven-person bluegrass jam session chock-full of mandolins, banjos, slide guitars, and at least four-part harmonies. Live music isn’t typical to the modern specialty cafe, but it is at Iconik, because that’s the sort of experience their community of customers wants in a coffee shop. “Santa Fe is a small town inhabited by big personalities: artists, writers, actors, Wild West enthusiasts, cowboys and Native Americans, Sikhs and yogis,” stated Dylan Miller, Iconik’s general manager. “We’ve been lucky enough to cultivate a space that has become a meeting place for the community. We embrace the mantra that ‘it takes all kinds.’ ”
But any comparison to those old-school coffeehouses comes to a screeching halt when discussing Iconik’s coffee program. Sourcing really nice green coffees, like the natural-processed Panama La Esmeralda and the fully washed Idido from Ethiopia, Iconik’s approach to coffee is more akin to modern, lighter, roast-forward specialty cafes. And behind the bar, Iconik is perhaps ahead of the curve, where a three-group La Marzocco Strada MP and a Mahlkönig Peak grinder—the company’s new model, stuffing the guts of the EK 43 inside the more streamlined body of the K30—occupy prime real estate. For brewed coffee, Iconik primarily uses Hario V60s with the dual-hoppered Mahlkönig EKK 43 grinder to highlight their single-origin offerings at the pour-over station. Everything about the coffee service is like what you’d expect to find in LA or Seattle, just in Santa Fe.
Iconik represents an interesting facet in the growth of specialty coffee outside the major urban hubs, showing that really good coffee doesn’t have to be confined to white-tiled, light-wood minimalism. Iconik is cross-pollinating high-quality coffee and familiar atmosphere because it’s that sort of approachability that ignites interest in specialty coffee, especially in areas where it is relatively unknown. And they are doing so in a uniquely Santa Fe way. There aren’t a lot of cafes where yoga pants and bolo ties are seen in equal proportion, but that’s just part of the magic of the American Southwest. It is a place where folks from all walks of life can find whatever it is they are looking for, which now includes really good coffee, thanks to Iconik.
Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network, and Sprudge.com's staff writer based in Dallas, Texas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.