I’ve already sung the praises of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, which is one of the best (large) airports I’ve had the pleasure of flying into/out of in recent years. Unsurprisingly, a big part of its charm (for me, at least) is that it has a branch of Cartel Coffee Lab past security in Terminal 4. The first two times I flew to/from Phoenix (late 2016, early 2017), it was closed by the time I got to the airport, but since then Cartel has extended its hours, so on my first trip to Phoenix, I was able to call in both when I arrived on a Monday morning and left, almost two weeks later, on a Sunday night.
Since it’s at an airport, Cartel would be forgiven for running a cut-down operation, but no, not Cartel. Instead, you are treated to the full Cartel range, which includes six single-origins (one decaf), one of which is available on espresso, while all six are available as pour-over via a combination of Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper and Chemex. There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew, while you can buy bags of the beans (and even a Chemex!) to take home (or on your flight) with you.
The pairing of coffee and bicycles is a fairly well-established in the UK, but not one I’ve seen very often in the US. To that end, Regroup Coffee + Bicycles, which does what it says in the name, is, dare I say it, much more European in feel than it is American. Forming the easternmost point of a diamond of speciality coffee shops in the heart of old Scottsdale that includes Cartel, Berdenas and Fourtillfour, it’s a relative newcomer, having only opened at the end of 2016. That said, Regroup has been very successful, so much so that it’s opening its own roastery/coffee shop, also in Scottsdale.
Occupying a low, single-storey building, Regroup’s layout is pretty simple, with the coffee shop in the front and bicycles at the back. The coffee menu is just as simple, with a blend on espresso (from Colorado’s Hotbox during my visit). I have to say, though, that my heart skipped a beat when I saw the sleek lines of the Slayer espressos machine on the counter. There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew available, while if you’re hungry, Regroup has a limited selection of things on toast, plus a range of cakes, pastries and fruit.
Scottsdale, to the east of Phoenix, is a lovely area of shops, hotels, houses, quiet streets and, right in the centre, a cluster of four speciality coffee shops, forming a rough diamond. At the southern tip is Fourtillfour, the creation of Nico and Mia, who moved here from San Francisco. Fourtillfour satisfies their twin passions: great coffee and vintage cars, the couple often organising rallies and other events.
I can’t speak to the cars, but when it comes to the coffee, it’s a small but lovely place. There’s an outside patio, which has the bulk of the seating, something you could only get away with in a climate such as Arizona, while inside there are a pair of small rooms, one with the counter, the other with some seating. The coffee, which is from San Cruz’s Verve Coffee Roasters, comes either via a simple espresso-based menu or there’s bulk-brew.
FUTURO is a relatively new name in speciality coffee, right in the heart of Phoenix. It’s been going for two years, so I’m rather annoyed that while visiting in January last year, I managed to get within half a block of FUTURO, as I strolled along Roosevelt Street searching for (and failing to find) good coffee. FUTURO is housed within PALABRA, a sort of mothership which contains FUTURO (the coffee bar), a gallery, a hairdressers and PASADO, which is a new venture, serving small plates from the kitchen at the back (but not on Sunday, which, of course, is when I visited).
FUTURO is not quite like any coffee shop I’ve visited before, which is a refreshing change from some of the common design elements I see time and time again. There’s minimal seating off to the left and right, as well as sheltered backyard behind the building by the parking lot. The coffee is also very atypical for Phoenix, with a wide selection of single-origins being provided by Heart Coffee Roasters in Portland. There’s a different one on each day, with one option on espresso and another on bulk-brew from a Fetco brewer discreetly tucked away under the counter.
After a month in the US, it was time to come home. I’d flown to Miami (in the back of an A380), spent a week driving around Florida’s east coast (interesting, but very flat), attended back-to-back week-long meetings in Miami and Phoenix (including flying first class between the two), then had a final week driving around northern Arizona, largely basing myself in Flagstaff. This was easily the best part of the trip, with mountains, canyons, forests and deserts all within an hour or two’s drive of Flagstaff. There was even an unexpected find of some great coffee.
However, it was time to come home, so I drove back to Phoenix the night before, spent the day exploring the relatively young coffee scene in Scottsdale, then headed for the airport, Sky Harbor, one of my favourite airports in the USA, perhaps even in the world. I’d only flown out of Sky Harbor once before, in late 2016, when I flew there and back on British Airways on my first visit to Phoenix. Back then, before I had a travel budget, I’d flown both legs in economy. This time, although I’d flown out in economy, I was returning back in business class…
When it comes to speciality coffee in Phoenix, you need to include the surrounding cities, particularly Scottsdale (east), Tempe (southeast), and, beyond that, today’s destination: Chandler. And when it comes to Chandler, there’s one name on everyone’s lips: Peixoto. Indeed, several people suggested I’d be well served making a specific trip just to visit Peixoto, so having arrived on the early flight from Miami exactly a week ago, and with a free afternoon to kill, I pointed my newly-collected hire car in the direction of Chandler…
What marks Peixoto out as special is its crop-to-cup philosophy, taking the ethos of direct trade to its logical conclusion. I’ve seen this in coffee-producing countries such as Vietnam (Oriberry Coffee) and China (Lanna Coffee), but this is the first time I’ve seen it outside of those regions. In Peixoto’s case, (some of) the coffee comes from the Peixoto family farm in Brazil, imported directly to the roastery in the corner of the coffee shop and, from there, straight to your cup. Short of moving to Brazil, it doesn’t come more direct trade than that!
There’ll be more on this in Peixoto’s Meet the Roaster feature, but today I’m focusing on the coffee shop.
Welcome to another of my Brian’s Travel Spot series which these days seems to involve documenting my various flights around the world. Normally these are long-haul international flights, but today I’m turning my attention to one of my least favourite activities: flying internally in America. It’s not something I do very often and certainly not something I do if I can help it.
This time last year, as I picked my way across America from San Francisco to Chicago to Miami to Boston, I took a series of three flights. One day I hope to write them up as part of the wider trip, but for now, the only other experience I’ve had of flying within America is on a couple of connecting flights, once on my way out to Phoenix in 2016 and the other when flying to Chicago via Newark last year.
This year began with a trip to Miami and Phoenix, involving a connecting flight between the two. Faced with the prospect of over five hours on a plane (and a small one at that), I looked at the options, and, with work’s travel budget picking up the tab, I decided that I’d better fly first class.
To celebrate my return to Phoenix, I present Monday’s Coffee Spot, Press Coffee at the Skywater Apartments in Tempe, which I visited on my previous trip to Phoenix almost exactly a year ago. Tempe is a separate city southeast of Phoenix, although part of the Greater Phoenix area. I first discovered Press Coffee, one of Phoenix’s leading roasters/coffee shops, when I fortuitously stumbled across its Scottsdale Quarter branch on my first visit to Phoenix.
The Skywater Apartments branch, which opened three years ago, is one of six in the Greater Phoenix area and is located in the Town Lake complex, just back from the southern bank of the Salt River and opposite the Tempe Center for the Arts. It’s a bright, open space, with a lovely, relaxed atmosphere.
If you’ve visited a Press Coffee before, then the offering will be familiar. There’s two blends (Twitch and Spitball during my visit) on espresso, with multiple single-origins on pour-over (five during my visit). One of these is also available as on bulk-brew along with another blend, Early Morning, which acts as the “house” filter. There’s also an extensive food served until 14:30, with various egg/bread-based dishes, plus the usual selection of cake.
The contrast between Cartel Coffee Lab’s downtown location and its flagship roastery/coffee shop in Tempe, which I visited the day before, couldn’t be starker. While the former’s a large, sprawling set of interconnected spaces, downtown is in an alcove off the lobby of 1 North 1st Street. It’s a very pleasant alcove, and, as alcoves go, it’s spacious enough, but it’s an alcove nonetheless. You can sit at the window-bar, out in the (echo-chamber like) lobby, or on the street at another window-bar.
Despite any perceived shortcomings in size, Cartel doesn’t compromise on the coffee, with the same full offering that’s out in Tempe. There are six single-origins, including decaf, all are available through Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper or Chemex. Meanwhile, one (plus decaf) is available as espresso. There’s also bulk-brew filter and cold brew, a small tea selection, plus cakes and prepared salads in the fridge opposite the counter.
Welcome to second instalment of the fifth in the occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. In the first part of this, the first Travel Spot of 2017, I explained how I was returning to Phoenix and took the opportunity to regale you with my adventures the first time around. We ended Part I with my arriving in Phoenix Airport having flown in via Salt Lake City, which, it turn out, was an excellent idea. Apart from the vile cold that I caught on the short hop from Salt Lake City to Phoenix and which I’ve just about got over now, a week later.
However, that’s enough moaning. I really enjoyed my return to Phoenix, confirming my original impressions that it’s a fabulous place both to live and to visit. What I hadn’t fully realised (although I knew it conceptually) is that Phoenix the city is quite small and what I think of Phoenix is in fact the greater Phoenix area (I may have made that term up!) which includes the surrounding cities such as Scottsdale (where I was last time) and the likes of Tempe, which is where we’ll start the tale of my return, after a quick word about my motel…