Cartel Coffee Lab, Scottsdale

A mug of a Colombian single-origin, served through the Aeropress at Cartel Coffee Lab in Scottsdale.It’s fitting that I celebrate my return to Phoenix with a long overdue write up of Cartel Coffee Lab in Scottsdale. Cartel, a small roaster/coffee shop chain with its flagship roastery/coffee shop in Tempe, has been going for almost 11 years. It now has seven branches, including downtown Phoenix and at Sky Harbor airport, as well as two branches in Tucson, and another in Palm Springs over the border in California. The Scottsdale branch has been going since 2011 and I visited three times last year, never managing to write it up for a variety of reasons (usually a lack of decent photo opportunities, since it’s perpetually busy).

Scottsdale is similar to all the other branches when it comes to coffee, serving six seasonal single-origins, all roasted in-house, one of which is decaf. Naturally, all the beans are available to buy. One (the top of the list) is always available as espresso, while there’s also a daily bulk-brew, with all the beans available as pour-over through the Chemex (8oz or 16oz), Cartel having stopped offering Aeropress/V60 at the end of 2018. There’s a range of cakes if you’re hungry and, in this branch, craft beer and Arizona wine on tap.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Cartel Coffee Lab on the northern side of Old Scottsdale, Airzona.
  • This sign, hanging at right-angles,  is handy if you are approaching from either side.
  • The main entrance is on the right...
  • ... although you can also use this shared passageway on the left...
  • ... which doubles as a sort of outside seating area.
  • Some of the two-person tables lining the wooden bench in the passageway.
  • There's a door down here on the right, which leads into Cartel...
  • ... although the passageway continues beyond that with another table.
  • The passageway opens out towards the back, making space for this sofa on the left.
  • Another view of the L-shaped sofa.
  • However, that's not all. The passageway continues, leading to the toilets...
  • ... and, before that, a door on the right, which leads into Cartel's cosy back room.
  • However, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Back to the front, and this window-bar...
  • ... which is on the door's right. Meanwhile, to the left, is this long, padded bench seat.
  • More seating is on the right, with three communal tabes, one running side-to-side...
  • ... and two more behind that, running front-to-back.
  • The first of the communal tables, seen from behind.
  • A view of the seating at the back, looking towards the window...
  • ... and a view across the second of the two tables, looking towards the long bench-seat.
  • Another view, from when it was busier.
  • Meanwhile, here's the second of the two front-to-back tables...
  • ... seen here from the back.
  • The last bit of seating is at this little bar to the left of the door at the side.
  • Next comes the counter, at the back of the main room, running the store's full width...
  • ... with a small retail selection off to the right.
  • All the usual suspects are here, including coffee and coffee-making equipment.
  • The cosy back room is visible through a gap in the wall behind the counter.
  • To get there, you need to use the door in the passageway. There's a table to the left...
  • ... and another in the corner at the back...
  • Next comes the first of two sofas, which occupy the back wall (this one)...
  • ... and the right-hand side, with the door to the store room in between.
  • The solitary sofa against the right-hand wall in the back room.
  • Finally, there are two of these two-person tables against the front wall.
  • My coffee, from my second visit in February 2018, eyeing up the sofa in the back room.
  • Nice sign, by the way.
  • There are a few other neat touches, such as thiis safe off to the right of the window-bar.
  • The right-hand wall of Cartel has a changing selection of artwork. This was from March...
  • ... last year, while this is from my most recent visit in January 2019.
  • It's a selection of designs by Dame of the West Tattoo.
  • Obligatory light-fitting shot.
  • So, to business. You order at the counter, where the till is on the left...
  • ... with the choice of beans off to the left of that.
  • When I visited in 2018, Cartel offered V60, Aeropress and Chemex for pour-overs...
  • ... but that's now down to just a choice of two sizes of Chemex.
  • The retail selection is the same as the pour-over selection by the way.
  • There's also craft beer and Arizona wine on tap at the bar to the left...
  • ... while the cakes are displayed to the right...
  • ... with the two-group La Marzocco Strada at the far end of the counter.
  • The menu used to hang above/behind the espresso machine, but it's now by the till.
  • My coffee from my first visit in February 2018: an Aeropress of a Colombian single-origin.
  • I paired this with a lemon & poppyseed muffin.
  • I was back a week later for this San Agustin, a naturally-processed El Salvador...
  • ... while in March that year I had a decaf cortado...
  • ... paired with a chocolate-chip (American) scone.
  • On my fourth and most recent visit on Saturday, I had the One & One, a split shot...
  • ... espresso and piccolo, made with the Finca Gamboa, a washed Costa Rican coffee.
  • I'll leave you with the awesome lasting power of the latte art in my piccolo.
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Cartel Coffee Lab is at the northern end of Od Scottsdale, on East 5th Avenue, just southeast of the pedestrian bridge over the Arizona canal. In a long line of single-storey shop units on the northern side of the street and set back under a veranda running along all the shops, it rubs shoulders with an eclectic mix, including a tattoo parlour and multiple souvenir shops. The relatively simple store-front has a single, wide floor-to-ceiling window, flanked by a door to the left, and a door-shaped window to the right.

There’s a single, long bench in front of the window if you wish to sit outside, although there’s more “outside” seating to the left, where a wide, covered passageway runs between Cartel and its neighbour, Giving Bracelets. A long bench runs down the Cartel side of the passageway, with six two-person tables, followed by a door into Cartel. The passageway continues, with a two-person table beyond the door on the right, then, on the left, a long, padded bench that wraps around the corner, with a long, low coffee table. Finally, on the right, another door leads into Cartel’s back room (more of which later).

You can access the front part of Cartel through the door from the street or the door from the passageway, which leads you towards the counter at the back. A long, padded sofa-seat with six small, round coffee tables runs between the two doors along the left of Cartel, while windows behind the bench bring in borrowed light from the passageway.

A four-person window-bar with high bar-chairs occupies the front window to the right of the door, while three communal tables on the right occupying the space between window and counter. The first, the largest/widest of the three, seats eight, running widthways across the store. Behind that, two narrower, six-person tables run lengthways, one in the middle, the other close to the right-hand wall.

There’s a bar immediately to the left of the door from the passageway. You can get wine/beer on tap, plus there are three high bar chairs. The counter is next, occupying the width of Cartel, the till and coffee options on the left, cakes in the centre, and two-group La Marzocco Strada on the right. On the right-hand wall, just in front of the counter, is a small set of retail shelves.

The back room is visible through an opening in the wall behind the counter, although the only way in is via the passageway. This is a cosy space with a pair of sofas, one against the right-hand wall, the other against the back wall. There are a pair of two-person tables along the front wall, while another two run along the left-hand wall, which consists of windows looking onto the passageway.

On my first visit, just under a year ago in February 2018, I had an Aeropress of a Colombian recommended by the barista. Served in a mug, this was a slightly acidic coffee that held its own as it cooled. I paired this with a lemon & poppyseed muffin that had a rich, cake-like interior and crisp exterior.

I popped back a week later, just before I left Phoenix at the end of my trip, to buy a bag of the San Agustin, a naturally-processed El Salvador. This came with a free cup of batch-brew (“drip” on the menu), which was the same coffee, a neat coincidence. A juicy, full-bodied brew, the flavours really matured as it cooled. While I was there, I got chatting with David, a local student, who let me try his pour-over, a washed Kenyan which was very clean, very smooth and very unlike a typical Kenyan.

I popped back one evening on my return to Phoenix in March, when Cartel was celebrating its 10th Anniversary. I marked the occasion with an excellent decaf cortado, paired with a chocolate-chip scone (American, not UK).

Finally, I called in on Saturday on my latest trip to Phoenix, selecting the One & One, a split shot espresso and piccolo, made using the Finca Gamboa, a washed Costa Rican coffee. This was beautifully presented on a ceramic tray, served with a glass of sparkling water. The coffee was very fruity in the cup, which came through in the espresso, particularly on the first sip, after which it became smoother. In milk, it was just as good, the coffee going well with the milk to produce a smooth, rich taste. The perfect way to celebrate my return to Phoenix!

7124 EAST 5TH AVENUE • SCOTTSDALE • PHOENIX • AZ 85251 • USA
www.cartelcoffeelab.com +1 480-621-6381
Monday 07:00 – 21:00 Roaster Cartel Coffee Lab (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 21:00 Seating Tables, Bars, Sofas; Bench (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 21:00 Food Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 21:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 22:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 07:00 – 22:00 Wifi Free
Sunday 07:00 – 21:00 Power Yes
Chain Local Visits 2nd, 11th February, 23rd March 2018, 5th January 2019

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