Coffee drinkers, look around town. A lot of our esteemed coffee shops are similar. They tend to follow something of a formula: the beans, the rhetoric, the baked goods, the lattes. But what if a coffee shop made a latte with rosewater? Hey, that would be a little different! And what if one spiked a rosewater latte with marigold liqueur from Guadalajara?
Well, then you would be at El Charro Hipster Bar & Café.
All but invisible from Grand Avenue, this Mexican coffee shop with global influences has been smashing the formula for a Phoenix coffee shop since it opened two months ago.
In a lofty room swirled with paint and bathed in eclectic music, a host of hot and cold coffee drinks come out from behind the long bar at center. Some are standard: cappuccino, espresso. Some are offbeat: horchata mixed with coffee. Husband-and-wife team Francisco and Azul Peralta, a former engineer and a former chemist, both from Mexico City, are happy to talk coffee and lead you to a new or old drink.
Either way, El Charro Hipster Bar & Café is as quirky as its name.
A mural of Frida Kahlo covers one wall. Francisco painted it with his daughter, Geraldine, who also works at El Charro. Even chair backs curve with prints and paintings.
On top of having a colorful atmosphere and menu, El Charro is socially responsible. The plates and utensils that come with food are compostable. (As the place has no stove, food is limited: chilaquiles, Spanish-style omelets, turkey with Puebla-style mole, bruschetta, and a few more.)
The beans that the Peraltas feed into their Italian grinder are organic and fair trade. “It’s a custom mix from south Mexico, so high altitude,” Francisco says. “Good coffee is usually from high altitude: Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Veracruz.”
The beans are roasted in New York using high-volume machines that do the job fast. Francisco believes that this is ideal for his coffee because a fast roast, he says, preserves more of the natural oils in the beans.
These beans may power a drink like a blend of coffee and Earl Grey with cardamom and clove. They may give life to a drink like the Mama Rose, the rose latte, which you can fortify with Araceli, a sweet marigold liqueur.
El Charro Hipster Café also pours neat spirits: mezcal (including some made from Espadin and Tobala agave), tequila (including Terralta), sotol, and an aguardiente made with mango. Show interest in the lean but strong spirit program, and Francisco may pour you a sample or two. He serves mezcal in traditional, hollowed-out, wobbly gourds.
He also makes cocktails. “I invented all of the cocktails here,” he says, noting that two have ice pops in them. “We want people to come here and be fun and different.”
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The Peraltas are hoping to cultivate a space of art, live music, and good coffee, drinks, and camaraderie. They are hoping to spark a scene.
“First thing is bringing back the art of conversation, meaning this is a place to gather,” Francisco says. “You can gather around food, coffee, and good quality of drinks. We’re trying to have an environment like Europe.”
He adds that he wants to “rescue” his memories of European travels with Azul and bring them to Arizona. The spirit of European cafe culture may yet kindle in El Charro, but perhaps with more Mexican influence, and perhaps with bits of places like Brazil given the caipirinhas. Whatever happens, El Charro has bravely and thrillingly stepped away from the old formula.
El Charro Hipster Bar & Café. 1325 West Grand Avenue; 602-730-3247.
Tuesday to Thursday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 8 to 2 a.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Monday.