Cafe M owner Tom Gibson loves good coffee as much as 101 professors love PowerPoint. Once you begin talking with Gibson about roasts, aromas, and cups, it’s hard to stop — he has an infectious joy for his work. After only an hour with Gibson tasting and talking about coffee, I was reminded of how excited I had once been every time I tasted coffee. His extensive knowledge of brewing fosters his childlike enthusiasm.
Gibson and his wife, Anne, took over ownership of the Kagy and East Main Rocky Mountain Roasting locations in 2010. Rocky Mountain Roasting (RMR) peaked in power around 2006, when they had five local coffee shops and two locations in Helena. Now, RMR focuses mainly on roasting. Their roasts are characteristically dark, similar to those of chains such as Starbucks.
When Gibson began management of the two RMR locations, he kept the name and made very few changes — but from the start he knew he would eventually make the coffee shops his own. Last Summer, Gibson acted on those plans. He changed the name to Cafe M, switched roasters to local Ghost Town Roasters, and remodeled both locations. Even more important than these physical changes, a new spirit has been born through Cafe M that is dedicated to producing the best coffee possible.
At any given time there are around 10 types of coffee beans available for purchase at Cafe M. Their selection is diverse, and after a few bags have yet to disappoint me in quality. Like most cafes, they use a house blend for their espresso, but they also rotate a single origin bean through a separate hopper roughly every two months.
Two weeks ago they switched their single origin espresso from a Nicaraguan to an Ethiopian Sidamo. Sidamo refers to the province the bean comes from. As an espresso, this bean exhibits a strong and crisp lemon flavor. Gibson told me they plan to darken the roast slightly this week to bring out a subtle chocolate finish. Chocolate or no, this is an espresso highly worth putting your lips to.
Perhaps the one shortcoming of Cafe M is that it isn’t as convenient to get to from campus. I also would not rate it as highly as other shops in town for long homework sessions, although the East Main location is cozier and offers nooked seating. Cafe M’s doughnuts come from New Day bakery in Belgrade and Bagelworks supplies its bagels. All other pastries are made from scratch daily with no preservatives by Anne Gibson. The East Main location also serves more substantial fare, however I did not have a chance to try it.
Gibson is constantly tinkering and learning — he is a scientist and his cafe is his lab. After business hours, Gibson told me, he adjusts the temperature and pressure of the espresso machine just to see what happens. Most cafe owners will adjust pressure only if they feel something is wrong, not for kicks. That type of curiousity defines the ingenuity going into Cafe M’s final product, and it shows.
To see the coffee scientist in action, visit the East Main location on Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon for a cupping. This week they will be trying a new Kenyan coffee.
The Coarse Grind
Coffee selection: 5 stars
Espresso: 5 stars
Convenience: 3 stars
Atmosphere: 3 stars
Must Try: Ethiopian Sidamo Espresso, straight shots or as an americano.