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Featured Food, Restaurants & Dining Fara Illich August 22, 2012

If you think you’ve got to be somewhere cold, wet and gloomy to find a great cup of coffee, Downtown Phoenix’s coffee houses can’t wait to prove you wrong. They roast their own beans, take brewing seriously and offer that extra something – from vegan eats to just being a cool place to linger – that will have you headed their way the next time a caffeine craving hits.
Coffee-5If you’re serious about your coffee, then Cartel Coffee Lab is where you want to go. Cartel’s beans come from small farms in Central and South America, and they’re roasted at the company’s original Tempe store. To top it off, Cartel is the only coffee house in Arizona with a Clover brewing machine, something that can best be described as a French press from the future. Here’s how good Clover coffee is: Starbucks bought the company that makes the $11,000 machines. Cartel also serves up great espresso drinks, cold-brewed iced coffee, breakfast and lunch, and an array of baked goods, some of which are accented with bacon and all of which are half off starting at 12:30 p.m. Cartel will soon move in to new, more spacious digs on the corner of First Street and Washington, offering up an expanded menu and longer hours.
Duck and Decanter is an easy choice for lunch. It’s bright and open, offers patio seating and has the full menu of sandwiches “the Duck” is famous for. But you might want to start the day here, too. Of course the breakfast sandwiches are good. But the Duck’s flagship store on Camelback got into the coffee business more than 20 years ago, and the Downtown Phoenix location benefits from that experience. It boasts a full espresso bar, including less-acidic toddy iced coffee, and serves all the Duck’s coffee blends on a rotating basis. Although the beans come from around the world, 80 percent of the Duck’s coffee is roasted in Phoenix or Scottsdale, including the house blend – two types of Central American and two types of South American beans with a touch of French roast – and the not-too-sweet Cafe Mexicana – a mix of Viennese Cinnamon and French Vanilla dusted with cocoa. Here’s a moneysaving tip: If you buy a reusable cup, the Duck offers a discount.
It’s tough to see One Coffee from Washington Street, but it’s a place worth finding. Owner Damian Serafine is the most laid-back perfectionist you’ll meet. He spent 15 years perfecting Sofia’s blend, an in-house roast named after his daughter. But One Coffee invites you to hang out for awhile and meet new people with its communal seating and local art hanging on the walls. And Serafine remembers his regulars and will offer friendly suggestions if you ask. On a hot day, the iced vanilla latte is perfect. The bitterness of the espresso comes through, but the drink is smooth overall, without the cloying sweetness that too many lattes have. The regular coffee menu has a good variety of hot and iced drinks, and the daily special board adds even more options. Turkish coffee in Downtown Phoenix? You’ll find it here.
Walk downstairs under the huge net sculpture in Civic Space Park, and you’ll find Fair Trade Cafe, a coffee place where the locally roasted beans are also certified fair trade, organic and shade-grown. Fair Trade has great coffee and a great setting. Almost every seat inside or out offers a view of the patio fountain, a nice oasis in Downtown Phoenix. Those who don’t drink espresso will love the rich French press coffee. And espresso fans won’t be disappointed. In addition to the standards, Fair Trade has some inventive seasonal drinks to offer. The spicy mocha, a mocha spiked with cayenne pepper and cinnamon, gives a one-two punch of sweetness and heat that really wakes you up. Fair Trade also serves up vegan baked goods and vegetarian lunch specials for those who don’t think everything’s better with bacon. And, they’ve expanded their offerings to include ice cream, wine and craft beers.
Added bonus? All the coffee houses listed have free wi-fi. So, go ahead, spend an afternoon “working.”
(Editor’s note: A shorter version of this article originally appeared in our Dining Guide.)