There are a lot of reasons to like 32 Shea. The patio is adorably cozy. The atmosphere is casual, the staff are attentive and kind. And there's a chair in the bathroom! Not just a boring chair, a really nice cushy one, perfect for feeding a baby or taking a little time-out from a bad date (why don't all restaurants have a bathroom chair?!).
They also have arguably the best coffee service in North Phoenix. Part of what makes 32 Shea's coffee so great is that the baristas are talented -- but they also don't take the coffee thing too seriously, which we have come to appreciate. 32 Shea adds some fun flair to their beverage menu in the form of house-made flavored syrups. We don't just mean the standard simple-syrup-and-cheap-vanilla-concentrate "house-made" syrups- - we mean real, delicious flavor combinations that complement coffee without smothering it.
Writing about food and drinks makes a person prone to making strange requests. For example, we wanted to taste each of the syrup options, so our befuddled server obligingly brought us demitasse cups full of the good stuff. One by one, we drank them. Straight up. Pure, delicious, sugary syrup. Each sip was delicious and made the pancreas quiver with some weird combination of fear, exhaustion, and delight.
We're pretty partial to black coffee, espresso, and itsy-bitsy milk-and-espresso drinks. We appreciate these drinks for how simultaneously simple and ridiculously complex they are. A well-made pourover or perfectly extracted espresso speaks volumes about a barista's skill, and that's nothing to scoff at. Syrups and fancy flavors are often present to paint over things like bad roasting or bad bar skills; in fact, we've got a pretty good working theory that the more bottles of Torani or Monin syrup that a shop has on open display is directly proportional to how terrible your coffee is about to taste.
That said, coffee should also be fun sometimes, and that doesn't necessarily mean that it's not still well-made. Such is the case at 32 Shea. The cafe works to provide interesting flavors that pair well with coffee, but that are versatile enough to be used in other beverages, too.
The restaurant's menu is simple, but also pretty creative. Locally-roasted Matador coffee forms the basis of the drinks. They put a unique spin on some of the more standard coffee bar offerings; for example, in addition to a regular ol' mocha, they also offer a Nutella Mocha (yum!). They have vanilla syrup, sure, but they also have "Vienna" syrup -- a housemade infusion of cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, and sugar.
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32 Shea also offers pistachio syrup. It was scrumptiously sweet and delicately nutty. Both this option and the lavender syrup fall into the category of "sort of kind of 'housemade' syrups," as they are both made with organic flavor extracts rather than the real stuff. Regardless, we'll gladly take these over the artificially-colored stuff from the bottle; moreover, each of them taste great.
We'd place 32 Shea's Vienna and Rosemary-Honey syrup in the category of "actually housemade syrup," as in, these ingredients were actually infused on site. We were particularly partial to the Rosemary-Honey. Made with fresh herbs grown in planters outside of the restaurant, it doesn't really get more homemade than this syrup.
At our server's recommendation, we tried a latte with 32 Shea's lavender syrup. Using lavender is tricky; especially when paired with frothy ingredients (milk) and any sort of bitterness (espresso), the dominant sensation tends to be "oh god, get this soap out of my mouth." But we were willing to take the suggestion, and were not disappointed. The espresso was well-extracted to ensure minimal bitterness, and the milk was steamed to just the right temperature. The butteriness of the milk downplayed the lavender's soapy qualities quite nicely, and the result was a perfectly chug-able, delightfully floral latte.