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.

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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.

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Cartel Coffee Lab, Phoenix Sky Harbor

A decat cortado at Cartel Coffee Lab at Terminal 4, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.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 of two 2018 visits 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.

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Cartel Coffee Lab, Downtown Phoenix

The Cartel Coffee Lab logo from the wooden A-board outside the store in downtown Phoenix.The contrast between Cartel Coffee Lab’s downtown location in the centre of Phoenix, 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.

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Cartel Coffee Lab, Tempe

A one and one (otherwise known as a split shot), beautifully presented on a wooden tray with a glass of soda water at Cartel Coffee Lab in Tempe, Arizona.Along with Press Coffee, a chance discovery on my first visit to Phoenix, the other big name in Phoenix coffee is Cartel Coffee Lab. Another roaster/coffee shop chain, Cartel has six branches, including one at Sky Harbor Airport (one of my favourite airports), another in downtown Phoenix and two in Tucson. In a departure from the Coffee Spot norm, my introduction to Cartel was visiting its original branch, the coffee shop/roastery, in downtown Tempe.

A large, sprawling spot, Cartel consists of multiple, connected spaces, which betrays its roots, since Cartel started in just one small part of its current home, slowly expanding to incorporate the additional spaces over the years. Further expansion is in the pipeline: the roastery (currently along the left-hand side in the front part of the store) will soon be shifted into the adjacent building at the back of the store.

Cartel, which never roasts blends, has six single-origins, including a decaf. All are available as filter through Aeropress, V60, Clever Dripper and Chemex, while one (plus the decaf) is available as espresso. There’s also a daily option on bulk-brew, cold brew and, if you’re hungry, a small selection of cake. If you don’t fancy coffee, there is a small tea selection too.

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