Welcome to the third and final instalment of the first Travel Spot of 2019, covering my first trip of the year. This started when I flew to Phoenix on the 4th January, getting upgraded to First Class along the way, and ended with my return from Chicago on 1st February, when I had to slum it in business class. Along the way I spent two weeks in the warm, winter sun of Arizona and New Mexico and then flew from Phoenix to Chicago, arriving in time for the polar vortex and the second coldest spell in Chicago’s history.
In all, I spent four days in the suburbs, hanging out with my friends, before catching the commuter train into Chicago proper, which was when it got really, really cold. Perhaps fortunately, I was there for work and, knowing the reputation of Chicago winters, had already booked the hotel in the same building as my office, so I didn’t actually have to go out… The downside was that I only had a single day to explore, but, given the weather, that’s probably just as well. Then, as soon as my meeting was over, I was off to O’Hare for my flight home.
Something that I really admire about the speciality coffee industry is its commitment to improving the lot of coffee farmers by paying them a decent price (far above commodity prices) for their coffee. At the same time, the industry’s finding new ways to ensure that more of the value stays with the coffee farmers/producers. Perhaps one of the most exciting is the concept of farm-to-cup, also known as crop-to-cup (which has the advantage of being alliterative), where the entire value chain remains with the farmers who control every stage from production (crop) to the final drink (cup).
I’ve seen this in countries such as Vietnam (Oriberry Coffee), Thailand (Akha Ama Coffee) and China (Lanna Coffee), but the first time I saw it outside of a coffee growing region was in Arizona, when I visited Peixoto, in Chandler, southeast of Phoenix. Peixoto was set up specifically to roast and sell coffee from the family farm in Brazil, something which it’s been doing for the last four years (it celebrated its fourth birthday on 31st January). I’ve already written about Peixoto as a coffee shop: today, in this Meet the Roaster feature, I want to look at the rest of Peixoto’s operation.
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.
One of the names that I kept seeing when in Phoenix was Tucson’s Presta Coffee. So, when I ended up there a week later at the end of my road trip through eastern Arizona/southern New Mexico, naturally I paid Presta a visit, calling in on the original branch in the Mercado San Augustin (Saint Augustin Market).
The market occupies a lovely, large, open rectangular courtyard with shops and restaurants on all sides (like an outdoor Mackie Mayor if you know Manchester). Presta has a long counter in one corner, with seating available at the counter itself and in a (non-exclusive) seating area off to one side. You can also take your coffee out into the courtyard where there are plenty of tables.
Compared to Presta’s flagship branch, the coffee service is limited, with the 120PSI blend being served from a concise espresso-based menu. There’s also a single-origin on batch brew which changes at least once a day. There is no food or cakes, but you are welcome to bring things in from any of the shops/restaurants in the market to have with your coffee.
Exo Roast Co. has, since 2013, been roasting and serving some excellent coffee in the centre of Tucson, Arizona. I first visited in March last year, after a tip-off from Coffee Ken, who I met at Matador Coffee in Flagstaff on my first of visit to Arizona in 2018. I also called in again on Saturday, when I was back in Tucson.
Occupying a sunny corner, Exo is split in two. From the outside, I’d have bet that the back was the roastery, with the coffee shop up front. While I was right about the coffee shop part, the roaster is here too. The back, meanwhile, provides overspill seating, a part-time bar and occasional events space.
Exo Roast Co has a concise espresso-based menu, pleasingly lacking the buckets-of-milk style drinks, with a single-origin plus decaf on espresso, another on batch-brew and two more as pour-overs through the V60. Breakfast is served until noon during the week, while at weekends, it shifts by an hour, not starting until 8:00 but continuing until one o’clock. There’s a short, but inventive seasonal menu chalked up on a blackboard on the wall next to the coffee menu. There’s also a small selection of cakes/pastries.
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 both my 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.