Tag Archives: Nami


Independent shops create Coffee Culture in Phoenix

It doesn’t take an investigative panel to notice the smattering of new coffee shops in Phoenix. In the past few years, vacant lots and empty buildings have transformed into Cartel Coffee Lab, Songbird Tea and Coffeehouse, JoBot Coffee and Nami.

The culture of local shops have more to offer to Phoenix than a just a latte. The journey from coffee bean to customer tells a story of sustainability and community. These ideas merged together to form Coffee Culture, a downtown Phoenix collective of local coffee shops.

A green coffee bean travels from a plantation in Costa Rica to a roaster in Tempe to a coffee shop in Phoenix to a shared moment between two strangers to in the story of Coffee Culture.


Ron Cortez began roasting coffee in the mid-1990s. The backroom of his store front in Tempe, Arizona, smelled of freshly roasted coffee beans. His two young daughters played hide-and-seek as he poured two samples of highly-caffeinated cold brew coffee.

Cortez grew up among the coffee plantations of Costa Rica. He left his career as a banker to found Cortez Coffee Company.

“I remember seeing an 80 kilogram bag of coffee and thinking, ‘How are we going to sell all of this?'” he said. “Now we sell over 120,000 pounds of coffee a year.”

After researching sustainability, Cortez decided he wanted to go beyond Fair Trade and organic. He joined More Than Fair, an organization that buys directly from farmers for a fair price.

Thirty cafes across the valley brew Cortez Coffee. Online sales and social media are revolutionary to the local movement.

“You can now reach out to customers directly,” he said. “People care about the story behind their coffee.”


Songbird Coffee and Tea is one of the valley businesses that brews Cortez Coffee. A rotating board lists two roasts with details about the coffee’s origin and roast. The skilled baristas serve the coffee pour over style and swirl steamed milk into latte art. The cafe also offers loose leaf tea and iced espresso-based drinks.

“Songbird is one of the strongest coffee houses in the area,” Cortez said. “They are a true success story.”

Husband and wife team, Jonathan and Erin Carroll, started Songbird in July 2012.

“If we didn’t have a loyal customer base, we wouldn’t be here,” Jonathan Carroll said. “We wouldn’t be thriving.”

A few months ago, he decided to create a community of downtown cafes. He said wanted to create a group where coffee shops could promote not just themselves but also other small businesses and the local movement.

“If you’re going to spend your hard earned money, keep it local,” he said. “Small businesses care about the customers more and listen to their feedback.”

Each coffee shop has something different to offer, he said. Jobot Coffee keeps late night hours and whips up crepes and burritos. Nami serves vegan pastries and brunch. Lola Coffee offers fresh roasted beans and a lively ambiance. Coffee lovers tend to support several different shops.


Quinn Whissen and Ryan Tempest, cofounders of This Could Be PHX, helped Carroll mobilize his mission. Together they formed Coffee Culture

“Jonathan approached us with the idea of promoting all the coffee shops around downtown,” Whissen said. “Even though he’s a coffee shop owner, he doesn’t see them as competitors. He sees them as part of a culture.”

The project consists of a graphic art poster by Whissen highlighting 13 uptown and downtown coffee shops. An interactive map on Coffee Culture’s website lists unique features of each shop and includes biking, walking, driving and light rail directions.

Also included is a collection of people’s story on how the coffee community has transformed their lives “one coffee and one conversation at a time.”

“You go into a coffee shop and you see people working, reading, studying and meeting friends,” Tempest said. “It’s a great way to make connections.”

Those connections has proven to be pivotal in Whissen’s and Tempest’s lives. The pair met at a Phoenix coffee shop, and Whissen, a marketing and design consultant, works and meet clients at cafes.

“Coffee Culture highlights all the great local coffee shops in downtown, the community they create and the culture they foster,” Tempest said.

The movement fell in line with This Could Be PHX’s philosophy of urban revival and sustainability.

Downtown Phoenix has had a bad reputation for such a longtime, Whissen said. People think it’s dangerous or there’s no local business or nightlife. Coffee Culture seeks to change that, latte by latte.


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.