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The Coffee Spot Guide to Phoenix
I first came to Phoenix in October 2016 returning four times since then (the latest being in January 2019). Over that short time, I’ve come really like Phoenix and the southwest in general. In the case of Phoenix, it’s a combination of the climate (from late October, to early March, when I visit, it’s like a British summer), the terrain (it’s both surrounded by, and full of, mountains) and, of course, the coffee, with a small, but growing speciality coffee scene, featuring several home-grown roaster/coffee shop chains such as Press Coffee and Cartel Coffee Lab, plus a handful of smaller independents.
Phoenix is, I believe, a much under-rated city. I accept that as a tourist destination, there are few must-see sights, but for such a big city (the fifth largest in America), it has a very relaxed and friendly small city feel to it. I tend to steer clear of the centre when I’m here, staying either near the Phoenix Mountains Reserve or in the relative flat of Scottsdale. However, wherever I look, there are mountains, both surrounding the city and in the city itself, which I absolutely love. Whenever I’m here, I always try to take time to climb at least one mountain.
I should say, by the way, that when I say Phoenix, I am talking about the wider Phoenix area, which includes the neighbouring cities of Scottsdale to the east and Tempe and Chandler to the southeast. This list will only grow as I explore further afield on future visits. As with all my guides, it is not, and does not claim to be, an exhaustive list of all the best coffee in Phoenix.
For a local take on Phoenix (and the southwest as a whole), check out Coffee Ken‘s excellent coffee shop reviews.
Header image: sunset, looking south towards downtown Phoenix from Piestewa Peak in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve.
I’ve broken the Coffee Spots down by city, started with Phoenix itself and including Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler and Peoria.
Cartel Coffee Lab, 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.Continue reading...
Cartel Coffee Lab, Phoenix Sky Harbor
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.Continue reading...
Firecreek Coffee Company was a chance discovery when I visited Flagstaff in February 2018. A roaster/coffee shop, Firecreek has a second location in Sedona, and has since opened a third in Cottonwood, as well as today’s Coffee Spot, it’s first venture in Phoenix. Located inside The Marylin, an iconic building that’s home to various offices, you’ll find Firecreek Arcadia on East Thomas Road, roughly equidistant between downtown Phoenix and Oldtown Scottsdale. While a car is advised (The Marilyn has an extensive parking lot), buses also run along East Thomas so it is, in theory, accessible by public transport.
The coffee shop is a beautiful, irregularly-shaped space, with a wide variety of seating both inside and out. The offering is familiar to anyone who has visited the original Firecreek in Flagstaff, the espresso-based menu catering to both the speciality coffee community, with options like the espresso set, and the more mainstream American coffee-drinker and their beloved 16oz lattes. There’s also batch-brew filter and pour-over made with the Clever Dripper or cafetiere using any of the available beans. Talking of which, all the coffee is currently roasted in Flagstaff, but Firecreek is in the process of opening a dedicated Phoenix roastery/coffee shop.Continue reading...
FUTURO is a relatively new name in speciality coffee, right in the heart of Phoenix. It’s been going for two years, so I’m rather annoyed that while visiting in January last year, I managed to get within half a block of FUTURO, as I strolled along Roosevelt Street searching for (and failing to find) good coffee. FUTURO is housed within PALABRA, a sort of mothership which contains FUTURO (the coffee bar), a gallery, a hairdressers and PASADO, which is a new venture, serving small plates from the kitchen at the back (but not on Sunday, which, of course, is when I visited).
FUTURO is not quite like any coffee shop I’ve visited before, which is a refreshing change from some of the common design elements I see time and time again. There’s minimal seating off to the left and right, as well as sheltered backyard behind the building by the parking lot. The coffee is also very atypical for Phoenix, with a wide selection of single-origins being provided by Heart Coffee Roasters in Portland. There’s a different one on each day, with one option on espresso and another on bulk-brew from a Fetco brewer discreetly tucked away under the counter.Continue reading...
Giant Coffee, Phoenix Sky Harbor
Good airport coffee is still, sadly, a rarity. It therefore seems unfair that, given its scarcity, Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport should have not one, but two speciality coffee shops. The first is Cartel Coffee Lab in Terminal 4., which is very handy for me, since I typically fly British Airways/American, both of whom use the terminal.
However, this time, I was flying Delta, which uses the newly-refurbished Terminal 3. I was just kicking myself for my choice of airline and hence terminal, rueing missing out on a decent pre-flight coffee, when I walked past Giant Coffee, a small coffee bar tucked in with a larger convenience store/newsagent.
Although there’s not much to Giant, it offers a concise espresso-based menu using the house-blend and decaf, plus there’s pour-over (V60 or cafetiere) and batch brew, each sporting a different single-origin. There’s also Rishi Tea and a range of cakes, sandwiches and salads.Continue reading...
Kream | Coffee
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.Continue reading...
Press Coffee, The Roastery
My first speciality coffee experience in Phoenix was the chance discovery of Press Coffee in the Scottsdale Quarter on my very first visit in 2016. Since then, I’ve had a soft spot for Press, visiting its locations on the Waterfront in Old Scottsdale and in the Skywater Apartments in Tempe. The number of Press locations has varied over the years, but currently stands at eight, which includes the new roastery. This opened in July last year in north Phoenix, just off SR51, one on the main routes north out of Phoenix.
Although I have a soft spot for Press, I would be hard-pressed to describe its locations as anything other than utilitarian. Not The Roastery, however, which is magnificent, occupying a standalone building with a large outdoor seating area, a mezzanine level above the counter/kitchen and the roastery at the back.
The coffee offering is very familiar: the Twitch blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, two options on batch brew and up to six single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. Add to that a selection of tea, beer, wine and spirits, plus a concise all-day food menu and a range of cakes, and you have something for (almost) everyone.Continue reading...
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.Continue reading...
Cartel Coffee Lab, 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.Continue reading...
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 award-winning outdoor 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. The first, accessible from the patio, has the counter, while the other houses a large Probat roaster, where Fourtillfour roasts all its own direct-trade coffee under the brand Four Coffee. This is served via a simple espresso-based menu, along with batch-brew, while if you're hungry, you there's a small breakfast menu and a selection of doughnuts. Naturally, the coffee is available to buy either in-store or on-line.Continue reading...
Mythical North (Maverick Coffee Update)
When I last visited Phoenix in January 2020, my first port of call was Mythical Coffee in Gilbert, which had, at that point, been open for just two weeks. It’s therefore fitting that on my return to Phoenix last month after a three-year absence, my first stop was Mythical North, Mythical’ s Scottsdale outpost. Not that Mythical North was entirely new to me, since I’d been a frequent visitor during its previous incarnation as Maverick Coffee. Located in the Paradise Valley Plaza, an old-style outdoor mall in Scottsdale, Mythical is conveniently located just around the corner from my usual hotel, making it a natural place to stop for my morning coffee, particularly on the drive to the office.
The change from Maverick to Mythical occurred in August 2022 and was more merger than takeover, Eric and the team at Mythical buying into the existing business. The changes have also been gradual rather than wholesale, the coffee shop feeling very much as it had been on my previous visits, although the coffee now all comes from Mythical, roasted off-site on a brand-new Loring roaster. The biggest (physical) difference is the expansion into the space next door, very much a work-in-progress.Continue reading...
Press Coffee, Scottsdale Quarter
My first visit to Phoenix, in October 2016, saw the chance discovery of Press Coffee in the Scottsdale Quarter development, a short walk from my hotel at the time. Since then, I’ve been a regular visitor on my frequent returns to the area, often calling in on my way to/from the office. However, that was the old Press Coffee in Scottsdale Quarter: in July 2021, Press Coffee moved to a new, much bigger unit on the other side of the development. Naturally on my return at the start of 2023, I had to check it out.
The old location had a slightly awkward layout, but lots of charm, whereas the new location, a corner spot with windows on either side, has a more regular feel to it. There are two ranks of tables in the middle, with the counter at the back, while the windows and high ceiling lead to a bright, airy space. There’s more seating outside, with tables along the front and down the side. The offering is the familiar Press Coffee one, with two options on espresso, batch-brew filter and pour-over, all roasted in-house, along with limited but very tempting breakfast and lunch menus, backed up with cakes/pastries.Continue reading...
Press Coffee, Waterfront
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.Continue reading...
Cartel Coffee Lab, Tempe
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 multiple locations, including at Sky Harbor Airport (one of my favourite airports), downtown Phoenix, Scottsdale and 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.Continue reading...
Press Coffee, Skywater Apartments
To celebrate my return to Phoenix, I present Monday’s Coffee Spot, Press Coffee at the Skywater Apartments in Tempe, which I visited on my previous trip to Phoenix almost exactly a year ago. Tempe is a separate city southeast of Phoenix, although part of the Greater Phoenix area. I first discovered Press Coffee, one of Phoenix’s leading roasters/coffee shops, when I fortuitously stumbled across its Scottsdale Quarter branch on my first visit to Phoenix.
The Skywater Apartments branch, which opened three years ago, is one of six in the Greater Phoenix area and is located in the Town Lake complex, just back from the southern bank of the Salt River and opposite the Tempe Center for the Arts. It’s a bright, open space, with a lovely, relaxed atmosphere.
If you’ve visited a Press Coffee before, then the offering will be familiar. There’s two blends (Twitch and Spitball during my visit) on espresso, with multiple single-origins on pour-over (five during my visit). One of these is also available as on bulk-brew along with another blend, Early Morning, which acts as the “house” filter. There’s also an extensive food served until 14:30, with various egg/bread-based dishes, plus the usual selection of cake.Continue reading...
Regroup Coffee + Bicycles
Continuing the theme from last month’s visit to Phoenix of old friends in new places, today’s Coffee Spot is Regroup Coffee + Bicycles, which I first visited five years ago in February 2018. Back then, Regroup was best described as a coffee bar in a bicycle shop in Old Scottsdale and while it had only been open for little more than a year at that point, it had big plans, including roasting its own coffee. In 2021, those plans came to fruition with a move south along Scottsdale Road and across the line separating Scottsdale from Tempe.
These days Regroup occupies a standalone building with a spacious coffee shop on the ground floor, which it shares with the roastery and a bicycle repair shop at the back. Upstairs is the showroom/sales area and offices, which doubles as additional seating, plus there’s outside seating on the terrace at the front. The familiar Mk II Slayer espresso machine has also made the move from Scottsdale, where it anchors a concise menu based around the seasonal house-blend, backed up with a single-origin on both batch-brew and pour-over using the V60. There’s also a limited food menu along with cakes if you’re hungry.Continue reading...
Pair Specialty Coffee & Tea
After five previous visits to Phoenix, where I’ve visited coffee shops in the surrounding cities of Scottsdale, Tempe and Chandler, this trip has seen me add Gilbert, Peoria and now Mesa to the list. Mesa, which is east of Tempe and north of Gilbert, is somewhere I’ve only previously driven through on my way to the Superstition Mountains. What caused me to stop on this occasion was Pair Specialty Coffee & Tea, which I was urged to visit by several people, including Fionn of The Pourover and Eric, at Mythical Coffee.
Pair Specialty Coffee & Tea started as a pop-up inside the tap room at Cider Corps, although it’s now migrated to a more permanent set up at the back of the main bar with plans to expand the opening hours in the next month or two. Pair roasts all its own coffee, with five single-origins on pour-over, two of which are also on espresso. These are backed up by five loose-leaf teas pus matcha, with all the coffee/tea available to buy in retail bags.Continue reading...
A permanent fixture of my now annual trips to Phoenix is meeting up with Meg and her husband Coffee Ken, Arizona’s leading coffee blogger. So, when I arrived in Phoenix on Saturday, other than picking up my hire car and checking into my hotel, my first act was to drive over to Gilbert, one the cities to the southeast of Phoenix, for our meet up. The venue was a new coffee shop, Mythical Coffee, on Gilbert Town Square.
What Ken hadn’t told me when he suggested Mythical Coffee as our venue, is just how new it is. Today it has been open for precisely two weeks. Mythical Coffee is a roaster and coffee shop, offering an ever-changing cast of single-origins, one each on espresso, batch brew and pour-over, with the coffee available to buy in retail bags. There’s also cold brew and, when the equipment has been tweaked, nitro cold brew will be available, along with several seasonal lattes and a small selection of matcha, chai and tea. Mythical offers a small brunch menu, featuring overnight oats, plus four different toast options, served until 2pm each day, along with a selection of cakes and pastries, available all day.Continue reading...
When it comes to speciality coffee in Phoenix, you need to include the surrounding cities, particularly Scottsdale (east), Tempe (southeast), and, beyond that, today’s destination: Chandler. And when it comes to Chandler, there’s one name on everyone’s lips: Peixoto. Indeed, several people suggested I’d be well served making a specific trip just to visit Peixoto, so having arrived on the early flight from Miami exactly a week ago, and with a free afternoon to kill, I pointed my newly-collected hire car in the direction of Chandler…
What marks Peixoto out as special is its crop-to-cup philosophy, taking the ethos of direct trade to its logical conclusion. I’ve seen this in coffee-producing countries such as Vietnam (Oriberry Coffee) and China (Lanna Coffee), but this is the first time I’ve seen it outside of those regions. In Peixoto’s case, (some of) the coffee comes from the Peixoto family farm in Brazil, imported directly to the roastery in the corner of the coffee shop and, from there, straight to your cup. Short of moving to Brazil, it doesn’t come more direct trade than that!
There’s more on this in Peixoto’s Meet the Roaster feature, while this post focuses on the coffee shop.Continue reading...
Driftwood Coffee Co.
Although this is my sixth visit to Phoenix in under four years, I’ve always stayed in northeast Phoenix or Scottsdale, my speciality coffee focus generally turned towards the centre and the cities to the southeast, such as Tempe and Chandler. However, Peoria’s Driftwood Coffee Co. has been on my radar since it opened in 2017, so when work finished unexpectedly early one afternoon, I took my chance and drove over to pay it a visit.
Driftwood is on the edge of Old Town Peoria, just off Highway 60, which runs northwest out of central Phoenix. Occupying a compact space at the end of a warehouse-like building, Driftwood has a generous outside seating area and a simple, high-ceilinged interior. A true multi-roaster, Driftwood aims to offer at least one Arizona-based roaster and one from elsewhere in America. While I was there, there were two local options, Mythical Coffee (which I’d visited earlier in the week) and Tucson’s Yellow Brick Coffee (which I’d previously enjoyed at Maverick Coffee), while the national offering was from Horizon Line Coffee in Des Moines, Iowa. There’s a concise espresso-based menu, batch brew (for those in a hurry) or a slow bar, offering cafetiere, Chemex or V60.Continue reading...
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