In a metropolis that isn't particularly known for its coffee scene, we're lucky enough to have three (and really only three) shining examples of how good coffee can taste.
A shop that pays attention to its espresso, whether served in a demitasse or swimming in milk, says a lot about the hospitality they're aiming for. It's the last step in a long chain that started with the buying of high-quality green coffee, lighter roasting that doesn't cover up natural flavors, and ends with execution and the preservation of quality behind the bar - trying not mess it all up, that's the key.
The end result is a shot that's truly delicious - creamy, bright, complex, sweet all on its own. Espresso when it's cared for is diverse, too, since blends not only change by the seasons of harvest in producing countries, but even with day-to-day ebbs and flows as the coffee settles following the roast.
The best news of all? You can find a good espresso that results in a sunny disposition can be found in three distinct points of the Valley.
Giant Coffee - Midtown Phoenix When searching for the right roaster for his coffee bar, Matt Pool (of Matt's Big Breakfast) landed on Four Barrel out of San Francisco. Four Barrel is only a few years old, but they've built a record of buying the highest quality coffees, making the effort to keep the beans that comprise of their espresso blend fresh and in-season.
The baristas at Giant pull shots of their Friendo Blendo espresso faithfully. Consistently bright, the shot currently gets its acidic flavor from South American coffee farms (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador).
Take a sip. There's some creamy orange here, some candied lemon there. A syrupy, raspberry and caramel finish rounds out the shot. At Giant the shots are always good, and often very great. The food scene in Phoenix seldom draws similarities to the scene in San Francisco, but there are a few culinary experiences that feel like walk by the bay, and this is one of them.
Press Coffee Roasters - North Scottsdale Very early on last year Press opened their second location at the Scottsdale Quarter (the first is at City North), the now thriving home to luxury shopping, dining, and everything else. Very quickly, Press was offering the best coffee in Scottsdale.
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Their espresso is no exception. What started out as a blend with simple flavors has now evolved to shots that are often fruity and complex. Currently their espresso is a blend of two Brazilians - one sweet, one fruity, both down to Earth with a darker set of flavors, and ends with semi-sweet chocolate syrup on the palate. This balanced blend makes for a sturdy shot that stays consistent with many of their baristas, and which compliments milk quite well. Take a stroll through the fountains of the Scottsdale Quarter, or into the Apple store just across the street and you'll see how cherished Press is to the locals.
Cartel Coffee Lab - Tempe Cartel can soundly be credited with bringing a new wave of coffee quality to Arizona. Three shops later (in Downtown Phoenix, Tucson, and Scottsdale) and quality at their original Tempe location is only climbing. Lately the espresso has been getting more attention than usual since Cartel upgraded to a La Marzocco Strada - the 2012 shiny chrome sports car of Espresso machines. Cartel's faithful shot following might be missing the recent espresso that tasted like cherry and dark chocolate, or a sundae with small amounts of steamed milk. But the new espresso is from a single farm in Costa Rica, with current flavors lying in defined layers of orange and cocoa nibs. We're glad we have Cartel to keep us on our toes, with solid shots easy to come by that put Tempe high on the national scale of quality, if not quantity, for tasty espresso.
And check out our other lists: Top Ten Spots for Mac 'n' Cheese in the Valley Three Favorite Espresso Shots in Metro Phoenix Ten Favorite Metro Phoenix Farmers' Markets Ten Favorite Metro Phoenix Grilled Cheese Sandwiches Eleven Favorite Favorite Places for Sushi in the Valley Ten Favorite Metro Phoenix Cupcakes Eleven Favorite Barbecue Joints in Greater Phoenix Ten Favorite Metro Phoenix Wine Bars Ten Favorite Phoenix Irish Restaurant & Pubs Six Favorite Specialty Cocktails in Phoenix Ten Favorite Metro Phoenix Craft Beer Bars Ten Favorite Gourmet Pizza Shops in the Valley Five Favorite Japanese Restaurants in Phoenix Ten Favorite Margaritas in Metro Phoenix Ten Favorite Coffee Shops in Phoenix Five Favorite Thai Restaurants in Metro Phoenix Eleven Favorite Ice Cream Shops in Greater Phoenix Ten Favorite Phoenix Happy Hours Five Favorite Sonoran Dogs in the Valley Ten Favorite Hot Dogs in Greater Phoenix Ten Favorite Desserts in Phoenix Ten Favorite First Date Restaurants Ten Favorite Burgers in Greater Phoenix Ten Favorite Downtown Phoenix Restaurants for Late Night Dining Ten Favorite Vegetarian Entrees in Metro Phoenix Ten Favorite Chinese Restaurants in Greater Phoenix