It’s Saturday morning in south Phoenix and the air smells of freshly brewed coffee inside Azukar Coffee.
The coffee shop is filled with neighborhood locals enjoying specialty lattes like Agave Mesquite (made with locally crafted agave and mesquite syrups), Cafe Con Leche, and the Caramelo Mio, a velvety drink made with cajeta, a traditional caramel-like Mexican confection.
“We wanted to be part of growing this community …We want to show that we believe in this area," says Sandra Flores, who owns and operates Azukar Coffee with her husband, Norberto.
The couple opened Azukar Coffee about three months ago in a historic home near the intersection of Central Avenue and Baseline Road in south Phoenix.
Azukar Coffee, she says, is their way of “planting seeds” in the community that they love. Flores and her husband were both born and raised in south Phoenix, and Azukar Coffee is their first business.
Flores says that most of the shop's clientele are neighborhood locals and family. Lately, though, she's noticed an uptick in customers on airport layovers. She sometimes finds herself acting as a kind of ambassador to south Phoenix, advising visitors to take the drive to nearby South Mountain Park, which offers impressive panoramic views of the Salt River Valley.
“To me, it’s amazing that people are coming all the way from the airport," Flores says. "That gives us the opportunity to really highlight south Phoenix where we hadn’t been able to do that before. Now I can say, 'Did you know you can drive up a mile and see the whole city?'"
Out-of-towners don’t have the same kind of “prejudgments” that some locals have about south Phoenix, she says.
She describes an encounter with a recent customer, a visitor from London who stopped by the cafe after a mountain biking session in South Mountain Park. He had no prejudices or qualms about hanging out in south Phoenix, Flores says, seeing only the "pure beauty" of the neighborhood.
"That's really what it's about for me. Making sure people see the good side of this community. Especially now that we're becoming a transplant city, there's so many people coming from different places in the country ... They're often told, 'Don't go to south Phoenix.'"
Azukar Coffee has developed a relationship with The Sagrado Galleria, the south Phoenix art gallery located just down the street on Central Avenue. Julia Marisela Duran, co-director of The Sagrado (and a regular at Azukar Coffee), says the two venues are serving the local community.
It isn't hard to see why locals love Azukar Coffee.
The latte menu features creative blends using syrups from Cotton Country Jams in south Phoenix, plus an assortment of refreshing aguas frescas and iced teas with flavors like mango chile and pepino fresco (mint tea infused with cucumber).
The drink menu, Flores says, is an extension of the types of drinks and flavors she grew up with. If you're more of a coffee purist, though, the shop also makes a good pour-over coffee cup.
An assortment of breakfast sandwiches and pan dulce are available, as well.
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Flores hopes to bring more community events to the cafe, a sentiment that's reflected in the shop's tagline: cafecito, cultura, vida — coffee, culture, life. To that end, the shop holds a biweekly pop-up market on Saturday mornings, and Flores says that a paint night is in the works.
"We are trying to create something here," says Flores. "Part of my vision was to promote south Phoenix and I really see that happening. It gives me chills."
To keep up with Azukar Coffee, check out the coffee shop's Facebook page.