Tag Archives: La Grande Orange

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A Tusconan’s quest for the best latte in the Valley

Writing has always come easy to me, though my best writing happens in coffee shops. The collective chatter of people, background music and the sound of a steaming espresso machine inspire and motivate me. Of course, the best part of writing at a coffee shop is the caffeinated beverages. I can sit and write for hours while sipping on my favorite espresso drink, an almond milk iced latte.

When I lived in Tucson, this was easy. I had a go-to coffee shop with the perfect almond milk iced lattes. I make the five-minute drive at least three days a week, where I would sit at a table, surrounded by artwork and music. It was the perfect atmosphere for writing.

Since moving to Phoenix, it has proven difficult to find that ideal coffee shop. Over the past several weeks I have searched high and low for the best almond milk latte.

You may be thinking, “What is so hard about that? It’s just a latte.” Let me tell you, there is nothing simple about it. Almond milk is temperamental. Depending on the brand, it can be sweet, watery, chunky, thick, smooth or just plain boring.

Besides using the best brand of almond milk, you need the perfect espresso. If you only have one of the two, the drink will be awful. And I have tried my fair share of awful almond milk lattes.

When you find this golden drink it will be thick, smooth, bold, decadent and delicious. You should melt into the naturally sweet almond flavor mixed with the strong and nutty espresso – pure perfection.

Call me goldilocks because this latte cannot be too strong or to weak, too boring or bland; it has to be just right. After sampling these caffeinated drinks at over eight coffee shops, I did manage to find some truly delicious lattes.
Now I am not one to decry a specific establishment. I will only detail the places that I found truly exceptional.

My quest began at Lux Coffeebar, 4402 N. Central Ave. The cozy and crowded café serves an assortment of baked goods, breakfast, lunch, dinner, espresso and alcoholic beverages. The atmosphere alone had me swooning. With an exposed wood beam ceiling and brick walls, the space was filled with wood tables, plush armchairs and couches. The espresso was strong; the almond milk sweet and nutty. To top it off the perfect start to my adventure, my latte was served in a glass mason jar.

Over the next few weeks I stopped in at coffee shops all over the Valley. My next find was at Songbird Coffee and Tea HouseSongbird Coffee and Tea House, 214 E. Roosevelt St. The small café is quaint and inconspicuous; two large windows look out onto the street and fill the space with light.

The latte was beautiful, I watched the barista fill a cup with almond milk, add ice, then pour the espresso into the creamy milk. The dark, thick liquid spread and turned the milk a golden caramel.

It may sound odd, but I can usually tell the quality of the latte just by looking at it. The bad ones don’t mix well; the almond milk looks watery with odd floating bits in the espresso. The good drinks blend into one cohesive latte. The almond milk iced latte at Songbird was the latter.

Echo CoffeeSince you can only say so many things about an iced coffee I will name the last three coffee shops under my umbrella term of a great almond milk iced latte – La Grande Orange, 4410 N. 40th St.; Echo Coffee, 2902 N. 68th St.; and Nami, 2014 N. 7th St. Each had strong espressos, with quality almond milk. I am truly overjoyed to find so many great coffee shops.

While this is not a comprehensive list of coffee shops that serve the best almond milk iced lattes, it was great start. The adventure has only just begun.

Phoenix Sky Harbor, Photo: Flickr, flavouz

HMSHost Transforms Dining at Sky Harbor’s Terminal 4

HMSHost, a world leader in travel-venue food, beverage and retail experiences, is currently in the process of updating and renovating Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s Terminal 4 — bringing more than 20 new restaurants to the terminal.

The transformation will include the addition of several popular local restaurants, including NYPD Pizza, Press Coffee, Modern Burger, Blanco Tacos + Tequila and four La Grande Orange brand restaurants.

“This is a busy and exciting time of year for vacations and summer travel, and we are very happy to be able to begin providing a new experience at Sky Harbor Airport that will truly showcase an authentic taste of Phoenix,” says Stephen Douglas, vice president of business development for HMSHost. “Terminal 4 is the busiest spot in one of America’s busiest airports, and we’re bringing out the best-of-the-best to showcase the great dining in the city of Phoenix.”

HMSHost was awarded its current 10-year food and beverage agreement after a 2011 competitive bidding process. The company is thrilled to continue its relationship with Sky Harbor and the City of Phoenix.

“HMSHost has had a presence at Sky Harbor International Airport for more than 40 years,” Douglas says. “We have watched with admiration the growth of the city of Phoenix, and we’ve shared in the expansion and development of Sky Harbor. Continuing our commitment to serve the city and Phoenix travelers was an easy decision, and we are thrilled to have been awarded the opportunity to continue a tradition of excellence at what has been recognized as the world’s friendliest airport.”

HMSHost carefully selected the chosen restaurants in order to best reflect the local flavor of Phoenix.

“We want to show everyone who travels through Terminal 4 the very best of Phoenix, so it’s our privilege to partner with some of the very best chefs and restaurateurs in the city,” Douglas says. “With local restaurants such as Barrio Café and Chelsea’s Kitchen, travelers will now experience a truly authentic taste of Phoenix.”

The Terminal 4 project offers a unique opportunity for the local businesses to offer travelers excellent dining options, increase brand visibility and act as representatives for the community.

“It’s our belief that just because you are traveling, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to enjoy a great meal,” says Sam Fox, CEO and founder of Fox Restaurant Concepts. “We hope that locals will recognize their favorites, and travelers will enjoy a new experience comparable to as if they had stepped into one of our restaurants across the Valley.”

La Grande Orange Hospitality Partner and CFO, Jennifer E. Cole, says La Grande Orange is excited to continue investing in the Phoenix area.

“The airport venture lets us bring local flavors to customers that know us and to customers new to the Valley,” Cole says. “With [HMSHost], we will be able to take the quality of food and service to higher levels.”

NYPD Pizza CEO, Richard Stark, adds that being in such a high-traffic location will have a positive effect on the businesses’ locations outside the airport.

“We are very excited about the Sky Harbor restaurant’s opening as it will introduce the NYPD brand to Valley residents and visitors alike,” Stark says. “We foresee this location serving as a powerful ‘brand builder’ and reaffirming our standing as the Valley’s best, authentic New York pizzeria.”

Press Coffee Roasters’ owner/operator, Steve Kraus, sees the Terminal 4 project as an opportunity to spread his passion for great coffee.

“We are thrilled to be at Sky Harbor Airport, especially in Terminal 4,” Kraus says. “Being at Sky Harbor Airport gives us an opportunity to not only expand and share our love for coffee, but also showcase to the world how great coffee can taste. We are extremely proud of our product and to be representing the best coffee the Valley has to offer.”

Included in the renovations are certain technological advances to improve service, including a mobile app, which can be used to have food delivered to your gate, as well as a tabletop ordering device currently being tested.

Douglas adds that, when the project is completed in early October, Sky Harbor will feature more local restaurants in one terminal than any other airport in the country.

“When travelers come to visit Phoenix or pass through our airport, I want them to know what Phoenix is all about, and soon they’ll be able to taste it,” says Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. “They’ll know that our city and our airport support our local businesses, and that Phoenix is an epicenter of high-quality, modern and authentic dining.”

For more information about HMSHost and/or Sky Harbor’s Terminal 4 transformation, including when the local restaurants are expected to open, visit hmshost.com or skyharbor.com, respectively.