Cartel Coffee Lab, Downtown Tucson

A mug of the Providencia Black Honey single-origin from El Salvador, served at Cartel Coffee Lab in downtown Tucson.Cartel Coffee Lab is a name I know well from my multiple visits to Phoenix, where I have visited many of its branches, including the flagship roastery/coffee shop in Tempe. I also make a point of calling in at the Sky Harbor Airport branch whenever possible, including when I flew out on Tuesday. However, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot is the first time I have ventured outside of Phoenix, at least when it comes to Cartel, calling in on its downtown Tucson branch when I was there last weekend.

If you’re familiar with any of Cartel’s other branches, then you’ll know what’s on offer: six seasonal single-origins, all roasted in-house, one of which is decaf and another (the one on the top of the list) which is always available as espresso. Add to that a daily batch-brew and the pour-over option through the Chemex (8oz or 16oz), where you can choose from any of the beans, and you have a coffee-lover’s paradise. As usual, all the beans are available to buy, plus there’s craft beer and a range of cakes if you’re hungry. This is all served in a glorious, light-filled building which might be my favourite Cartel branch.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Cartel Coffee Lab on East Broadway Boulevard in downtown Tucson.
  • A prime example of why, when I rule the world, I will ban parking in front of coffee shops!
  • That's the best shot I could get of the large windows at the front.
  • There are more windows down the side of Cartel, which extends beyond the green...
  • ... section, all the way down the exposed brick part to the glass double doors at the back.
  • Stepping inside, this is the view from just inside the door.
  • There's more seating to the right, starting with these two tables in the windows.
  • They are interesting things, looking like a plank balanced on some building slabs.
  • There's more seating beyond this transparent wall of bicycle wheels.
  • And here we are on the other side with a more conventional four-person table.
  • There's more seating beyond the windows, starting with this four-person table on the left.
  • There's a central, long, ten-person comunal table between the door and the counter...
  • ... with two more communal tables off to the right.
  • This is the second of the two, mad up of four two-person tables on a central frame.
  • Another view from the front, with the counter in the rear, right-hand corner.
  • And here it is, an interesting construction in its own right.
  • The view back towards the door, where there's a clear path from the counter.
  • Another view of the seating to the right of the window.
  • There's one final bit of seating at the front, this six-person bar aganst the wall...
  • ... which is beyond the round table on the left.
  • Another view of the bar, as seen from the back.
  • There is more seating at the back along the left-hand wall.
  • There are two of these four-person tables projecting out of the wall...
  • ... although each one only seems to have three chairs...
  • Beyond them are two smaller, round tables leading up to the doors at the back.
  • There's some more seating at the back...
  • ... including this single-person table against the back wall...
  • ... and this strange arrangement of three barber-style chairs in the centre.
  • Finally, more high bar-style chairs line the extension of the counter at the back...
  • ... with a couple more closer to the action at the front.
  • Cartel is full of neat touches, including these planters in the windows next to the door.
  • I particularly liked the wall of bicycle wheels hanging from the ceiling at the front.
  • For some reason, I took lots and lots of photos of it!
  • These metal plates are on the walls on both sides...
  • ... while there was also one of these fellows on either side.
  • Despite all the windows, there are plenty of interesting light-fittings...
  • ... which naturally caught my eye.
  • I particularly liked these light 'shades'...
  • ... while these 'chandeliers' made of metal spokes were also rather wonderful.
  • The light-bulb in the centre is a neat addition.
  • Finally, there were these tube-shaped lampshades hanging above the tables on the left.
  • To business. A large mat welcomes you to the counter...
  • ... where you'll find the till and the menus.
  • Off to the left is the display case with the cakes...
  • ... along with a long, thin menu...
  • ... which replicates the three panels that hang over the counter.
  • Meanwhile, the single-origin selection is off to the right...
  • ... all of which are available to purchase in retail bags from the shelves on the left.
  • I opted for a pour-over with a slice of cake.
  • I followed my barista's recommendation of the Providencia Black Honey from El Salvador.
  • My cake, meanwhile, was the blueberry breakfast cake, which I had at 3pm!
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Cartel Coffee Lab’s downtown branch, on the busy East Broadway Boulevard, is the most recent of its two Tucson branches, even though it opened six years ago! Under five minutes’ walk south of the Amtrak station, it’s a reasonable option for coffee if you’re waiting for your train, except that there are only two trains a day, one at 8:15 in the morning to Chicago/New Orleans, the other at 19:35 in the evening to Los Angeles… Fortunately, Cartel is open for both! It’s also on a major bus route, which, coupled with the trams, which stop one block away, make it easy to get to by public transport.

Cartel occupies a single, large brick-built space open to the shallow A-frame roof. It’s full of natural light, but, due to its north-facing aspect, not too bright. There are two large, floor-to-ceiling windows along the front, plus a smaller one to the right and floor-to-ceiling, glass double doors on the left. There are more windows down the left-hand side (which catch the morning sun) plus a further pair of glass double doors at the back. Finally, the roof is punctuated on the right-hand side by regular skylights which catch the afternoon sun.

The bulk of the plentiful seating is at the front, the space delineated by a large, irregular-shaped counter which occupies the back, right-hand quarter. There’s more seating back here on the left, which is slightly higher than the front, accessible via a small step or a gently-sloping ramp.

There are two narrow three-person tables, each with barber-style chairs in the large windows at the front, with a more conventional four-person one in the smaller window to the right behind a wall made of bicycle wheels. Meanwhile, three long communal tables fill the remaining space to the counter. One is a wooden 10-person table, while the other two are made of four, fixed two-person tables on a central, metal frame. Just for variety, there’s a round, five-person table off to the left, with a six-person bar up against the wall just beyond it, a good option for laptops since there are plenty of power outlets.

Up on a small step on the left, you’ll find two high, square four-person tables and two high, round, three-person ones arranged along the wall. These are opposite the counter, partially screened by the retail shelves. Beyond the doors, there’s a small one-person table against the back wall, while in the middle of the space at the back, there’s an interesting arrangement of three barber-style chairs, all facing outwards. The final seating is provided by a line of bar chairs along the left-hand side of the counter, although these are well back from the coffee-making part of the operation.

Having had the One & One when I was in Scottsdale two weeks earlier, I opted for a pour-over, following the barista’s recommendation of the Providencia Black Honey from El Salvador. Cartel now only serves pour-over via the Chemex, with 8oz and 16oz options available. Unsurprisingly, I opted for the 8oz, my coffee coming a single diner-style mug. It took a little while to grow on me, but as it cooled, it developed a lovely, subtle sweetness with fruity undertones. I paired this with a slice of the blueberry breakfast cake, continuing my long tradition of eating things at the wrong time of the day since it was 3pm. A sweet, slightly moist, cake with a crumbly consistency, it was really tasty.

210 EAST BROADWAY BOULEVARD • TUCSON • AZ 85701 • USA
www.cartelcoffeelab.com +1 480-621-6381
Monday 07:00 – 22:00 Roaster Cartel (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 22:00 Seating Tables, Counter, Bar
Wednesday 07:00 – 22:00 Food Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 22:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 22:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 07:00 – 22:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 07:00 – 22:00 Power Limited
Chain Regional Visits 19th January 2019

You can also see what I made of all the other branches of Cartel Coffee Lab that I’ve visited.


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3 thoughts on “Cartel Coffee Lab, Downtown Tucson

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