Phoenix

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The Coffee Spot Guide to Phoenix

My coffee enjoys the view from the balcony of my room at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort in Phoenix, looking north just after at dawn.

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.


Coffee Spots

I’ve broken the Coffee Spots down by city, started with Phoenix itself and including Scottsdale, Tempe and Chandler.

Phoenix

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, 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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FUTURO

An awesome cortado in a glass, using a single-orign Kenyan from Heart Coffee Roasters, served in FUTURO in Phoenix.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.

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Kream | Coffee

My espresso at Kream Coffee in Phoenix, from my visit in 2018. It was served in a gorgeous, earthenware cup with little plugs for handles on the sides.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.

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Scottsdale

Berdena’s

A lovely espresso, served on a wooden tray, with a glass of sparkling water on the side.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.

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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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Fourtillfour

Fourtillfour in Scottsdale, operating out of this neat little space at the back of a patio.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.

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Maverick Coffee

A lovely flat white, made with the guest espresso, the Runaway Blend from Yellow Brick Coffee in Tucson and served at Maverick Coffee in Phoenix.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.

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Press Coffee, Scottsdale Quarter

A beautiful cappuccino in a classic, hard-to-photograph black cup on a black saucer, made at Press Coffee Roasters, Scottsdale Quarter.I’m leaving Phoenix today after an all-too-short week-long visit, which included a weekend in the Grand Canyon. However, I couldn’t go without sharing on the unexpected highlights of my stay with you. Speciality coffee is not something I was expecting to find on this trip since I was on business and staying out to the northeast of the centre, in North Scottsdale. However, on my second evening there, having wandered the block from my hotel to the Scottsdale Quarter (I think of it as an outdoor shopping mall), I stumbled across Press Coffee Roasters, which immediately set off my Coffee Spot radar!

Press Coffee is a roastery, with a chain of four coffee shops, including one at the airport. What’s more, there are three more on the way! Press Coffee has been going for eight years, with the Scottsdale Quarter branch opening in 2010. There are two blends on espresso, along with decaf, plus five single-origins on filter, made using the Seraphim automated pour-over system through either the Kalita Wave or Chemex. There’s an espresso blend and single-origin on the obligatory bulk-brew, plus cold-brew and nitro cold-brew. If you’re hungry, breakfast/lunch is served until 2.30, with cakes available all day.

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Press Coffee Waterfront

My cortado at Press Coffee Waterfront, served on a wooden tray with a glass of sparkling water.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.

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Regroup Coffee + Bicycles

The Regroup Coffee + Bicycles logo, along with its slogan #wheredoyouregroupThe 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.

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Tempe

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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Press Coffee, Skywater Apartments

My Costa Rican filter coffee, made with the Kalita Wave using the Seraphim automated pour-over machine at Press Coffee, Skywater Apartments, Tempe.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.

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Chandler

Peixoto

The Peixoto logo from the wall outside, both esposing the crop to cup philosophy and explaining how to pronouce the name: "Pay - Sho - Tow".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’ll be more on this in Peixoto’s Meet the Roaster feature, but today I’m focusing on the coffee shop.

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Map

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