Arts & Culture Business Development Deal Food, Restaurants & Dining Spotlight Fara Illich July 22, 2010

Cartel Coffee Lab’s Downtown location is a lot like the hipster bar du jour–your cool quotient spikes just knowing it exists.
CartelTucked between a military entrance and processing office and Burger King on 1st Street near the Washington intersection, Cartel makes little attempt to introduce itself to the masses. In fact, for months there was no signage at all lest a piece of hand-torn cardboard taped to the door that simply read “OPEN.” Management’s casual approach to marketing has made the haunt all the more attractive to Downtown’s coffee elitists and fringe crowd, similar to Cartel’s sister coffee klatch, Conspire. 
Once you do find the place, Cartel is more than comfortable; it’s dang-near homey. There are quiet conversation spaces, local artists’ work displayed throughout, friendly chatter from regulars (the bar area , and a staff-sponsored playlist full of old favorites and new surprises. (I recently heard a set comprised of Led Zeppelin, Passion Pit, Velvet Underground, Arcade Fire, Fiona Apple, and The Muppets’ seminal work, “Mahna Mahna.”)
Cartel_MichaelAnd the coffee, well, that’s where Cartel really sinks its hooks into you. They roast their own beans in Tempe–exquisite beans hailing from Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil and Mexico–and every cup is prepared with the utmost care (see photo, above) In fact, if you ask manager Michael Terlisner (Cartel’s ever-present Sam Malone, pictured left) for some help in selecting the perfect brew, he’ll match you with your dream bean e-Harmony-style. Seriously, these guys don’t mess around when it comes to coffee.
Cartel is slowly expanding its food menu, too, graduating from scones and breakfast burritos to tarts and light lunch plates. They also sell their precious beans by the pound and will tailor-grind them to meet your specifications.
And if you can’t locate Cartel on your own, don’t fret.  Simply flag down one of our Downtown Ambasssadors patroling the streets; many of them are professed Cartel junkies.