When I was in Arizona this time last year, one of my chance discoveries was Flagstaff’s Firecreek Coffee Company. As an added bonus, the staff told me about a second branch, Firecreek Big Park, in the Village of Oak Creek, south of Sedona/Red Rock Country, a beautiful area that’s worth a visit (or two) in its own right.
Firecreek is right on AZ 179, which connects Sedona, to the north, with the Interstate, I17, to the south. Even better, just north of the Village of Oak Creek, it runs right through Red Rock Country, so Firecreek couldn’t be more conveniently-placed.
Smaller than the Flagstaff original, it serves a cut-down, espresso-based menu, plus a selection of cakes and a few savouries (granola, bagels and quiche). The space is lovely, a single, long room with a fireplace, open to the A-frame roof which soars above you. There’s also a large front patio.
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.
Of all the places I visited in Miami, ALL DAY, which opened in the Park West neighbourhood in May 2016, felt most like a British coffee shop, perhaps because, as the name suggests, it serves an all-day breakfast menu (while a staple of American diners, I find it rate in speciality coffee shops). Options include various egg dishes (plus some interesting egg-based sandwiches), along with several non-egg based dishes. ALL DAY also helped itself no end by dispensing with the American curse of counter service, instead bringing your coffee and food to you.
Talking of coffee, this is equally impressive, starting with a bespoke, five-group La Marzocco espresso machine, serving a house-blend from Wisconsin’s Ruby Coffee Roasters, which continues a link between Midwest roasters and Miami. Refreshingly, ALL DAY has dispensed with coffee names, instead going for a simple choice of espresso, espresso with milk and espresso with water, while offering a range of sizes.
Ruby is also available on filter, either through batch-brew or pour-over via the Kalita Wave, where it is joined by various guest roasters. While I was there, this included local roaster, Per’la Speciality Roasters, and Roseline from the Pacific Northwest, which was supplying the decaf.
I came to Flagstaff in search of mountains, forests, canyons and deserts, but not expecting much in the way of good coffee. However, the one place that pretty much everyone recommended was Firecreek Coffee Company, right in the centre of town on the Historic Route 66, almost directly across from the train station (which now doubles as the tourist centre).
I’ve already written about Firecreek’s roastery, 111 Roasting Works, which is a few blocks to the south. When I visited, it operated as a tasting room on weekday mornings. Sadly I’ve just learnt that 111 Roasting Works has finished its coffee service, but the good news is that Firecreek, which opened in 2015, is still going strong, serving excellent espresso and filter coffee, plus a range of tea, from the Donahue Building, one of Flagstaff’s oldest, dating from 1888.
There’s an excellent breakfast menu, which is supplemented by a wide range of very tasty-looking (and indeed tasty) cakes. These are all served in the large, spacious front portion of Firecreek, while there’s a second area to the rear, which serves as theatre, function room, bar and overspill seating area. You can also sit out front at one of two tables.
I often choose my accommodation during my travels based on where the good coffee is. However, in the case of February’s visit to Flagstaff, I wasn’t necessarily expecting to find anything, so the fact that I woke up on my first morning, drew back the curtains in my motel room and found Matador Coffee Roasting Co. literally across the road, was entirely down to good fortune.
Matador is a roaster, coffee shop and drive through, with a second, larger branch (without the roastery) on Highway 89, on the other side of Flagstaff. Occupying an old garage, it’s a handy spot to pick up coffee if you’re driving through, while if you have time to stop, there’s limited seating inside (where, if you’re lucky, you can watch the roaster in operation), or you can sit outside at one of the picnic tables set well back from the road.
Be aware that this is more of a traditional American coffee shop, with a darker roast espresso blend and large drink sizes (12oz to 20oz), plus the ubiquitous bulk-brew options. However, there are also several lighter roasts available as pour-over, while if you’re hungry there’s a small range of breakfast bagels and cakes.
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 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.
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.
The casual visitor could be forgiven for thinking that Panther Coffee is all there is when it comes to speciality coffee in Miami. However, the coffee scene is slowly taking off, particularly over the last couple of years. It was a barista at Panther’s Wynwood branch who first put me onto one of these newcomers, Vice City Bean, which opened in April 2016, a few blocks south of Wynwood, just north of the downtown area.
It’s a lovely spot, with large, north-facing windows, high ceilings and lots of space. The coffee is all the way from Madcap in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while there’s a guest espresso, which was from Onyx Coffee Lab in Arkansas while I was there. These are available through a cut-down espresso menu with a range of alternative milks. If you prefer filter, there are two options on bulk-brew and three more on pour-over through the Kalita Wave, with offerings from Madcap and the guest roaster. Meanwhile, there’s cold brew and loose-leaf tea.
If you’re feeling hungry, there’s a range of cake and pastries, including savoury pastries. Add to that a small selection of empanadas and assorted toast-based snacks, so you are covered for breakfast and lunch.
One of the first places that was on my list for coffee in Flagstaff, Arizona, other than Matador (which was across the road from my motel) was Firecreek, right on Route 66 itself. However, what I hadn’t realised is that Firecreek had, in the last few months, opened a new coffee tasting room at its roastery on 111 South San Francisco Street, two blocks south of the main coffee shop.
Operating under the brand of 111 Roasting Works, this wonderful space has the roastery on the left, and a large, open plan coffee bar on the right. I’m going to call this space, which has an espresso bar and a slow bar (pour-over to you and me) the Tasting Room, so not as to confuse it with the roastery, which I’ll call 111 Roasting Works.
It’s only open (for now) in the mornings, Monday to Friday, offering the simple choice of the (single-origin) espresso of the day (chosen by the barista that morning) or one of three single-origin filters through Aeropress, V60 or Bonavita dripper. All the coffees are exclusive to the tasting room, by the way. You can’t even get them at Firecreek in the centre of town.
August 2018: Some sad news coming from Flagstaff. 111 Roasting Works has stopped its coffee service and will just be used as a training room. I’ll definitely miss it the next time I’m in Flagstaff. The coffee which was exclusive to 111 Roasting Works will be available at Firecreek in the centre of town.