First off I should issue a disclaimer, Joel Gargaro from Rock Creek Coffee Roasters is a personal friend. He became a friend however because I liked his coffee so much that I kept going back day after day. Funny how you become friends with people to whom you hand lots of money! I'm teasing but their coffee really is my favorite. Try their iced mocha and compare it to Starbucks. It's much richer and creamier and the coffee doesn't have the burnt flavor I feel Starbucks has.

Right up there with Rock Creek's iced Mocha is Off The Leaf's Blended Dark Mocha. For a blended ice drink the flavor is quite intense thanks to the dark chocolate they use.

In both coffee houses the baristas are friendly and talkative and make you feel welcome. Rock Creek is at the center of the Billings downtown scene and it's where you'll find all the movers and shakers and Off The Leaf is decidedly more suburban but both have great coffee and a great atmosphere.

If you're travelling around the state I have a couple of other recommendations for you... in Bozeman Cowboy Coffee on Main Street is excellent, they're always experimenting with new drinks and the atmosphere is uniquely downtown Bozeman with student baristas, hardwood floors and a wide selection of pastries sure to satisfy. In Kalispell Colter Coffee, a tiny espresso house reminiscent of many Seattle establishments, crafts the best cup of joe in the Rocky Mountains for my money. It's much more stripped down décor-wise than the coffee houses in neighboring Whitefish but you only pay for great coffee and not fancy surroundings. Besides there is something about a brick walls, hardwood floors and burlap coffee sacks from all over the world. Who needs anything else.

On the less than positive side, while I think there is a big market for the drive through espresso kiosk, Mountain Mudd may be the worst coffee I've ever tasted in my humble opinion. It should be called Mountain Tar. The blended mocha I got was loaded with so much chocolate syrup it actually irritated my throat. I tried it a second time and had the most bland hot mocha I've tasted. The service was great and the people I've run into were friendly and they really did want to please me but it seemed they either didn't have the skill to do so or were saddle by bad corporate recipes. I don't know what the problem was and it's just my humble opinion. I'm sure they have some fans out there but I am not one.

I hope this local coffee review helps you start your day with an added boost of energy. Sante!