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  • Penny Hieb

Cartel Coffee Lab Paradise Valley

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

The Arizona sun was just starting to peek over the horizon when I arrived at Cartel Coffee Lab's newest location in Paradise Valley early Saturday morning. The warm glow of three Edison light bulbs illuminated the shop's sleek coffee bar where two graduates of the company's intensive barista training program manned the register and espresso machine. The latest neighborhood installment in Cartel's growing coffee empire, the shop at Paradise Village Gateway at the corner of Tatum and Shea evokes the industrial warehouse vibe reminiscent of their other cafe locations in Arizona, Texas, and California. Upon entering, there is a polished cement floor underfoot, neutral tones throughout, and plenty of steel, iron, and pressed recycled materials in use.

I was warmly greeted by the morning's baristas, Macy and Josiah. Both were kind and very well versed in the craft of coffee and were more than willing to spend time educating me about Cartel's offerings. Macy, a long time employee of Cartel, explained the five tiers of coffee available in the store, from their Black Market blend to their single origin washed and natural selections. Her personal favorite is the Esperanza Natural, which has a taste she described as being very fruit forward.

Cartel Coffee Lab roasts their coffee selections at their headquarters in Tempe and sources their beans almost exclusively from an importer called Mercanta https://www.coffeehunter.com/. Known as "the coffee hunters," Mercanta supplies specialty roasters around the world with exceptional green coffees in a responsible, ethical manner. The importer pays premium prices for their beans, usually at double the price of what coffee is being sold for on the commodity market. Mercanta never pays below $1.80 per pound for their beans and this minimum price commitment ensures that farmers are compensated with a realistic living wage that respects their hard work and cultivation efforts. Cartel Coffee Lab has been committed to this kind of ethical sourcing since their inception in 2007.

Roasting the exquisite beans procured from Mercanta takes a meticulous and technically adept hand. This roasting process is headed up in Tempe by lead roaster Daniel Noffsinger. The raw beans are placed in a classically designed SF-25 roaster that runs on natural gas. On KJZZ's The Show, Noffsinger described the machine as a "1950's style roaster" with manual controls. The mechanics are simple, but the science is in the exacting data he collects to determine the optimal roasting times for each type of coffee. After six years of day in and day out experience, Noffsinger has a vast amount of data stored in his head and almost instinctively knows how the coffees from different regions roast, and how to adapt the process to bring out the best qualities of each kind. The coffee at Cartel is all roasted in a light style to accentuate the nuances of its inherent flavor notes. The coffee is then carefully packaged in bags that identify the producer and tasting profile.

Cartel Coffee Lab started as a mobile cart over thirteen years ago by owners Jason and Amy Silbersclag. They opened their first brick and mortar location in Tempe in 2008 and now have nine locations with one more on the way later this year. Travelers passing through Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix even have the opportunity to experience the company's products in Terminal 4. That location opens at 4:30 am everyday and is ready to service the caffeinated cravings of weary airline passengers throughout the day.

In 2018, Cartel Coffee partnered with the boutique Arrive Hotel chain and opened two new sites at Arrive's locations in Palm Springs and Austin. Arrive is an innovative hotel concept started by former Facebook employee Ezra Callahan. The hotels are very tech savvy and handles check ins and housekeeping requests through text messaging. There are no phones in its guestrooms as the hotel seeks to connect people virtually. The boutique chain stocks Hiatus brand luxury robes and natural skin care products by Malin + Goetz for its guests. Another Arrive property is slated to open at 4th Avenue and Camelback in Phoenix sometime in 2020 with a Cartel Coffee Lab available on site. The hotel will take its cues architecturally from the surrounding neighborhood and promises to be a dog friendly property.

Pastry offerings in Cartel Coffee's Phoenix area stores are produced at their bakery in Tempe. The menu of its high quality baked goods is inspired by global themes. There are mesquite flour brown butter berry muffins, farro biscuits with smoked paprika, and hibiscus infused vegan poppyseed muffins. At the Paradise Valley store, barista Macy recommends the tumeric ginger snickerdoodle.

The Paradise Valley store also stocks brewing essentials such as Chemix pour over coffee makers, Buono drip kettles, and the Bonavita coffee maker. The Bonavita coffee maker is designed to brew a full pot of coffee at the optimal temperature recommended by the Specialty Coffee Association and sells in the store for $129. There are also, of course, bags of Cartel's renowned roasts available for purchase at the store. From the accessible Black Market Blend with milk chocolate forward flavors available at $15 to the $22 Flor Penna with notes of citrus zest, the store stocks roasts for a wide range of coffee palates. Cartel's website at https://www.cartelcoffeelab.com/ features education on how to prepare coffee using the aeropress, Hario V60, chemex and the Clever, a full immersion dripper. There are also more products available, exclusive to the website.

Of course, while its wonderful to have the roasts and essential gear available for enjoying Cartel's coffee at home, nothing beats having it served to you by the expert baristas in their shops. Paradise Valley barista, Macy, explained to me that the company puts baristas through two levels of training: one focusing on pour over coffees, and a second component focusing on the precision of espresso based drinks. At their shops, there is an unbeatable combination of expert baristas and state of the art brewing equipment. The Paradise Valley location features a gorgeous and gleaming Marzocco Italian espresso machine and each store uses reverse osmosis filtration that optimizes the quality of the water that goes into each hand crafted drink.

The rigorous training that gets invested into Cartel's employees and their top of the line equipment really shines through when you get your hands on one of their lattes. There is that crema atop, showcasing the use of the company's fresh, high quality beans. And there is a wonderful velvety texture throughout the cup which makes the latte a pure pleasure to drink. Training and equipment aside, there is also that irreplaceable passion that their employees have for coffee and Cartel's products. As Macy put it, she "feels like a parent" when describing her store at Paradise Valley, proudly enumerating the number of weeks the store has been open: seven. Also, there is the pride she has in knowing that Cartel essentially ushered in the third wave coffee scene in Phoenix over a dozen years ago. "Cartel set the precedent for coffee," Macy believes.

To experience Cartel's newest location and partake in their splendid offerings, head to 10625 N. Tatum Blvd #104. The shop is open everyday from 6 am to 8 pm.


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