Coffee Shop: Cartel Coffee Lab
Location: Tempe, AZ
Drink: 8 oz. Latte
Drinker: Chris Hess
Two of the cultures I am most intrigued by are converging upon one another: coffee and beer.
Two of the local breweries here in Fort Collins now have beer/coffee offerings. At New Belgium you can try Giddy Up and the folks at Odell Brewing Company were offering their try at the concoction in the tap room for a limited time (can’t remember the name, sorry). It feels like I’ve been drinking various coffee porters for years. Even a few of the folks at Intelligentsia (our Chicago-based roaster) worked with the guys at Three Floyds to produce a very limited run of Dwarven Hammer, a delicious altbier.
Just as good coffee is something I seek out in my travels, a nice pint is never a bad thing to find either. The last time I was in Alaska, I discovered the Midnight Sun Brewing Company. I asked my cousin if we could go to the brewery to do a tasting. He said sure and off we went.
As we drove, I wondered what the tap room at Midnight Sun might be like. The tap rooms at New Belgium & Odell & Fort Collins Brewery are each so distinct to the personality of the brewery that some very grandiose visions began to form in my head. Then we pulled into an industrial complex and parked the car in front of a taxidermy shop. I was confused.
Once out of the car, I realized that Midnight Sun was located in the two spaces next to the taxidermist. One space was full of brewing equipment and the other refrigeration equipment. Taps came out of the corrugated steel covering the refrigerator and a stainless steel counter stood between me and the goodness . On the walls hung merchandise and various heads of animals that couldn fit in the taxidermist’s quarters next door. If we were to show up outside of business hours, the spaces would have been concealed by your typical industrial park garage door. It was like discovering a treasure and the beer was nothing short of mighty fine. I long for it often.
A week ago I had a similar experience when entering the Cartel Coffee Lab in Tempe, AZ. I found out about Cartel while watching the United States Barista Championship, as one of the competitors is employed there. I became excited because I was going to be in the Tempe area for vacation. After a bit more research, I realized the shop was on the way to IKEA and quickly came to the conclusion that a beverage from Cartel would be a good prelude to Swedish things.
The wife & I had some initial trouble locating Cartel, as the address we thought was correct brought us to a tattoo parlor in a smallish business park. It turned out to just be confusing signage and after driving around the corner we found our destination and the Australian woman on the GPS was able to take a break.
Once we walked in, I immediately began to flash back to my experience at Midnight Sun. The shop is long and fairly narrow with wonderful (tiny) art on the walls. The roaster sat towards the back of the shop in front of an open garage door, and the coffee bar was on wheels & covered in stainless steel. I approached and ordered a small latte, noticing the doserless grinder and naked portafilter the barista was working with (yes please, thank you). While waiting I noticed the only lights on were above the bar, and the natural light streaming in from either end of the the shop provided the rest of what you needed. The menu was spray painted on ply wood and various seating areas – couches, stools, tables – were set up where they could fit. I almost had the feeling that if I left and then tried to bring people back, Cartel Coffee Lab would vanish and my friends would think I was making the whole thing up…like Costanza & his party full of supermodels. I had again discovered a treasure, this one tucked away amongst the hustle and bustle of the university down the street.
My latte was great enough I wished I had time for another, but we had “Swedish” lamps to buy. I will return to you Cartel, as long as you promise to be there.