I first visited Fourtillfour in February 2018, at the end of the first of two USA trips that year. Back then it was using San Francisco’s Four Barrel, although following Four Barrel’s well-publicised troubles, Nico and Mia were in the process of choosing a new roaster. When I returned the following month, FourTillFour had switched to another Californian roaster, Verve, although that was just a stop-gap while Nico and Mia moved to their ultimate solution, roasting their own coffee, which went live in October last year.
Welcome to the second instalment of the first Travel Spot of 2019, which started when I flew to Phoenix on the 4th January, getting upgraded to First Class along the way and experiencing not one, but two sunsets. I spent a week in Phoenix for work, visiting what coffee shops I could, before taking week-long road-trip east through the mountains of Arizona and southern New Mexico, returning through the desert to Tucson, where I spent a long weekend hiking and visiting coffee shops. Finally, I drove back to Phoenix on Tuesday, 22nd January and caught a flight to Chicago. Well, tried to.
Flying internally in the USA is one of my least favourite travel activities. I’ve had mixed experiences, ranging from okay to downright awful. My last internal flight was this time last year, going from Miami to Phoenix with American Airlines, a 4½ hour flight which I decided was best done in First Class. This year’s flight was slightly shorter, a mere three hours, but even so, I decided that First Class was still the best option, once again flying with American Airlines. Unfortunately, my flight coincided with a major snowstorm in the Midwest, which had some predictable consequences…
The Coffee Spots that I visited on this trip to Phoenix fell neatly into two categories: places I’d been before that I wanted to write-up this time around (such as Kream | Coffee), and chance discoveries (like Maverick Coffee). Of course, my first experience of speciality coffee in Phoenix was a chance discovery, stumbling upon Press Coffee as I wandered around the rather delightful Scottsdale Quarter on my first-ever visit to Phoenix. It’s therefore rather fitting that the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Press Coffee Waterfront in Old Scottdale, was another chance discovery, found while looking for the bridge across the Arizona Canal, on my way to visit Cartel Coffee Lab and Berdena’s.
With the familiar clean lines and white décor of the other branches of Press Coffee that I’ve visited, I felt immediately at home. The offering is also similar, with the Twitch blend, decaf and seasonal single-origin on espresso, another blend (Early Edition) and single-origin on batch-brew, plus six seasonal single-origins on pour-over through either Kalita Wave or Chemex. This is backed up by decent breakfast and lunch menus, both served until 14:30, plus a good selection of cake and a range of shakes, cold brew and iced coffees.
Maverick Coffee is another of chances discoveries of a coffee shop right outside my hotel, in this case in the Paradise Valley Plaza, an old-style outdoor mall in Scottsdale, where I was staying on my visit to Phoenix last week. Maverick, which opened in 2015, in many ways feels like a typical American coffee shop, but when it comes to the coffee itself, it serves a house-blend from San Francisco’s Ritual, with a monthly guest, chosen by popular vote on social media, plus decaf on espresso.
However, that’s only the start. There’s the obligatory bulk-brew, while if you really want to explore, Maverick has a constantly-changing selection of four single-origins on filter through the Aeropress, V60, Chemex and cafetiere. When one bag finishes, another goes on in its place. The range of roasters is bewildering, with Maverick supporting both local roasters and pulling in coffee from all over the country, most of which is for sale on the retail shelves by the counter.
If none of that takes your fancy, there is a selection of loose-leaf tea, various iced and cold-brew coffees, plus small but tempting all-day breakfast and lunch menus, all backed up by a variety of cake.
Kream Coffee is part of the small, but growing, speciality coffee scene in and around Phoenix. It’s another of those places which I came across during my second visit to Phoenix last year, prompting me to make an excursion outside of my usual Scottsdale haunts. In this case I went just north of downtown Phoenix, where Kream is somewhat incongruously located inside a design shop on North Central Avenue.
However, don’t let that put you off. If anything, it’s a bonus, since it makes for some very pleasant surroundings, while when it comes to the coffee, Kream is top-notch. A multi-roaster, it draws on a cast of five roasters, some of the best in the US, to bring you awesome espresso and batch-brew, where there’s a different single-origin every day. The espresso, meanwhile, changes once or twice a week. You can also buy retail bags to take home with you.
Berdena’s is a relatively recent addition to Scottdale’s growing speciality coffee scene, having opened in April 2017. Part of a new wave that includes Fourtillfour and Regroup Coffee + Bicycles, plus, just across the Arizona Canal, Press Coffee Roasters, it’s just a couple of blocks away along East 5th Avenue from the pioneering Cartel Coffee Lab. Unlike the majority of the area’s coffee shops, which focus solely on coffee, Berdena’s is known as much for its food, although in a fit of bad timing, I missed out on lunch on my first two visits! Berdena’s serves a concise breakfast menu until 2pm every day, while there’s a selection of cake all day long.
Turning to coffee, Berdena’s started with Madcap from Grand Rapids in Michigan, but has now evolved into a multi-roaster, changing roaster every six weeks or so, with a single-origin on espresso and another one batch-brew. You can also buy retail bags, although Berdena’s had sold out during my latest visit, the coffee from Morgon Coffee Roasters in Gothenburg proving extremely popular!
You can either sit outside at one of the tables sheltering under the passage to the left of the shop, or find a spot in the spacious interior, where there’s a selection of tables and a window-bar.
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.
Welcome to the first Travel Spot of the new year, on my first trip of 2019. I’m heading to Phoenix, spending a couple of weeks enjoying the winter sun, then flying to Chicago (which will be an interesting contrast) before returning at the end of the month. As usual, I flew with British Airways, using American Airlines for the Phoenix-Chicago leg.
I’ll say up front that this was not meant to be about me flying First Class to Phoenix. Right up until I reached the check-in desk, I thought I was flying Club World and was quite surprised to be told that I’d be moving up to First Class, just the second time that I’ve been upgraded in my life (the other was 10 years ago, an upgrade to Club Europe when returning from Madrid).
It’s also just the second time that I’ve flown First Class, the other being on my return from Chicago last year. That was a night-time flight, and while I enjoyed it, I spent most of the flight asleep, whereas this is a daytime flight, giving me much more opportunity to get the full First Class experience, which started with the rather swanky lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 3…
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.
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 that includes Cartel, Berdena’s and Fourtillfour in the heart of old Scottsdale (just to the east of Phoenix) 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 planning to open 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 espresso 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.
January 2020: I popped back to Regroup where I learnt that the roastery had been slightly delayed and was due to open at the end of the month in Tempe. There’s also a brand new Mk II Slayer on the counter. The only other change is that Regroup has gone cashless.