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.