Community Commentary Featured Food, Restaurants & Dining Spotlight Fara Illich July 26, 2013

Cartel CoffeeMy name is David Midkiff and I have a problem: I know next to nothing about the city of Phoenix. As I sit down to write, my wife and I are approaching the end of our first full week in the city. We made the journey from Portland, Oregon. I took a position teaching middle school students in the area, which I am excited to begin.
Almost as exciting, my wife and I are looking forward to experiencing everything Phoenix has to offer. We decided to rent a place near Downtown to get up close and personal. My entries will be from the perspective of an outsider stumbling onto the classic places and experiences you all know and love. If you have recommendations for must-sees in Phoenix, please leave a comment. For my first blog, I wanted to start with something I know and love: coffee.
On my first morning in Phoenix, I was looking for a good cup of coffee and a reliable WiFi connection to help me get settled. Baristas in both Portland and Los Angeles had told me that the place to be was Cartel Coffee Lab. There are several locations across the Phoenix area (Downtown, Scottsdale, & Tempe;) the closest one to our house is located Downtown on the northeast corner of First and Washington streets. After a short drive, I walked through the door to have my first experience of local Phoenix coffee culture.
Inside, the decor is very chic and modern. Minimalist configurations of metal tables and small tables center around a large red chandelier hanging just inches above the floor. The back of the space is filled with tables if you’re with a group. Just behind the counter, three large taxidermy heads quickly caught my attention. During my time there, a variety of people filtered in and out, everyone from business executives to ASU students. I soon found out why.
On approaching the counter, I saw that their menu highlights the roast of the month, coffee beans sourced from El Salvador titled “Santa Julia.” Bill, the barista and my first acquaintance in Phoenix, confirms my interest. It is a medium roast and, like all their beans, is roasted at their downtown Tempe location. I ordered my cup and found a seat. Several minutes later, I knew why Cartel Coffee Lab came highly recommended.
The “Santa Julia” has a strong, clean flavor with subtle herbal and citrus notes. While many medium roasts tend to taste somewhat more acidic, this particular roast is well-balanced with a very smooth finish after each sip. I bought a bag of beans for home and have enjoyed every cup so far.
Here’s the short of it: if you have not already discovered this local gem, work it into your schedule in the near future. The baristas offer great customer service and quality coffee drinks. The shop also offers some breakfast and lunch items if you’re looking for something more substantial. If you are not sold on coffee, they offer other drinks, including a refreshing prickly pear iced tea and a limited beer selection for the lunch crowd. There’s a little of something for everyone.
For first impressions, I was very satisfied with the coffee Phoenix had to offer. Being able to find quality coffee was a personal priority when I began to consider the opportunity I had to move down south several months ago. I anticipate discovering other similar gems that foster culture and community in Phoenix. While my native Portland certainly has many options for the coffee enthusiast, Coffee Cartel Lab proved to me that Phoenix is no coffee desert.