I am back from Montana, where I had the privilege to speak to the State Bar of Montana’s annual meeting again. My first visit was ten years ago – on September 10th, 2001 – and I have returned to the state both to speak to the State Bar but also just to visit. The people and land never fail to make the visit worthwhile.
I was able to do two things this time that I had hoped to accomplish, exclusive of trying to be informative and provide valuable information to the lawyers. First, I hoped to see a part of Montana I had not seen before. Our family drove out to Montana through the Dakotas once and so I have seen much of the southern and eastern sides of the state, near the interstate. We had driven up to Kalispell before and seen around the Flathead Valley. I was thrilled, then, to be able to drive up to the meeting in Kalispell this year through the middle of the state, along the east side of the Rocky Mountains.
The second was something I had done before but is one of those simple things that make travel fun for me. On my first visit to Montana, I noticed these espresso kiosks everywhere. They were small sheds with windows on 3 sides, and inside was a huge espresso machine, a few dozen bottles of flavored syrup, and just enough space for a person to provide coffee. Just as noticeable was the lack of national chain coffee shops like Starbucks. Montanans drove up to their local coffee kiosk, ordered from one of the windows, and off they went with their java. I wanted to make sure that this time, since I was driving again, that I took in a coffee kiosk.
My Montanan coffee journey started before I ever got to a kiosk. The conference hotel in Kalispell had a great coffee shop in the mall next door, called Spill the Beans. They make sandwiches as well, but they brew a great cup of coffee. The recommendation was to try the red velvet latte. This was new to me but it appears to be a trending flavor in Montana. It was a nice flavor although it didn’t have the unique taste you would get from something like a pumpkin spice or eggnog flavoring.
It was nice enough, though, that I tried it again when I hit the drive thru kiosk during my driving. I figured it was probably going to be a long time – if ever – before I get the chance again!
One of the few chain coffee shops I saw in Montana was the Montana Coffee Trader. There was a location about 250 years from Spill the Beans, in downtown Kalispell, but I also drove past one up towards Glacier National Park and then again on the west side of Kalispell. This is notable only because I think this is the first time I had noticed a chain coffee shop in Montana (I am sure they exist, I just haven’t see them) other than Starbucks or another national chain.
I tried the Mayan Mocha, which was a nice chocolate and cinnamon mixture. Definitely better than the average latte, and the mixture of cocoa and cinnamon was better than I have ever attained when I have tried this at home.
Montana is known for huckleberries. I don’t know that I have ever had the berry but it was a flavor I had tried in a coffee before and was determined to try again. Not surprisingly, you don’t run into Huckleberry flavoring everywhere you go!
I tried my first one the very morning I started in Montana, at the Fire Tower Coffee shop in downtown Helena. It is named after the famous fire tower that overlooks the city, in case of . . . well, a fire. The coffee shop has all the amenities a traveler could want. Great breakfast food, delicious coffee, and all the locals at their tables, talking politics and whatever else is percolating in the community. I sat and used the wifi, had my huckleberry latte, and enjoyed being in a Montanan town again. It is the sort of local experience that I only ever seem to run into in farming and ranching areas.
I had one more huckleberry latte yesterday, on my way out of town. The folks at Spill the Beans amped it up a little, though, making it into a white chocolate huckleberry latte. Another great coffee and great service from them, and a great way for me to finish my coffee tour of Montana.