Updated: Feb 18, 2020
The vintage 1976 Victoria Arduino espresso machine anchoring the bar at Sharon Koger's Esso Coffee is a breathtaking thing of beauty. Painstakingly restored and rebuilt by Koger's husband, who learned electrical work while in the Navy, the Italian designed apparatus is fully operational as well as gorgeously ornamental. Sitting atop a copper base, the vertical machine was handmade by skilled craftsmen who carefully pounded the rising copper exterior into its unique design, topping it off with an elaborately forged eagle perched on a golden domed top.
Java enthusiasts in the Phoenix Valley should take delight in knowing that the Victoria Arduino espresso machine not only looks beautiful, but in Sharon Koger's deft hands, it produces an astounding cup of coffee. I ordered a whole milk latte on Sunday morning, and was handed a red ceramic mug filled to the rim with an exuberant, creamy, and captivating latte topped with stunning latte art. It was delicious from start to finish.
Koger roasts the cafe's beans herself in a roaster she purchased from local company Buckeye Roasters. The machine produces five pounds per 15 minutes. She roasts five days week, two hours prior to opening the shop on weekday mornings. Her decision to roast her own beans was driven by profit margins and her search for the perfect blend that would showcase her amazing coffee beverages. Her early attempts to learn the craft resulted in a lot of trial and error. After much time spent on Google, You Tube, and her own research, Koger finally perfected the roasting process. Esso Coffee now supplies beans to businesses such as Otro Cafe, Layla's Bakery-Cafe in Sedona, and CO+HOOTS coworking space in Phoenix. The raw beans are supplied by Passport Coffee & Tea https://www.passportcoffee.com/# of Scottsdale, which imports beans from small farms in coffee growing countries throughout the world. Esso's Full City Blend, a med/dark roast, contains beans sourced from Guatemala, Brazil, and Tanzania. The flavor notes are rich, chocolatey, and nutty. There is also a Guatemalan Full City Decaf. A one pound bag of either selection sells for $12 in the shop.
Koger has been in the coffee business for over 17 years, with eight of those spent at Lola Coffee when it was located at Camelback and Central Ave. When she decided to start her own coffee shop, the location at 12th Street and Camelback was a natural choice. The proximity attracted scores of followers from her time at Lola Coffee. Esso is tucked into "The Strip", a two story shopping complex with several unique businesses. The coffee shop is next door to Original Gravity, a scratch kitchen with craft beer and a large wine selection. Esso is in a cozy, relaxing spot behind a trellis of greenery, facing 12th St. I liken it to a secret hideaway for coffee aficionados, the clandestine speakeasy for those who know where the city's best coffee is being roasted and brewed.
The cafe itself is simple and graceful with cement floors, a soothing cafe au lait palatte, and exposed duct work. Esso Coffee curates a rotating selection of beautiful local art on its walls, all available for purchase. The cafe does not take a commission on any of the sales. Koger, who once co-owned an art gallery on Grand Avenue, simply appreciates the ambiance the art brings to her shop. On the walls today were delicate graphite works by Michelle Helmick.
I asked Koger how the novice home brewer could get the most from her delightful beans. Her suggestion was a French press or Aeropress. The key: getting the grind right. A courser grind for less robust brews and a fine grind for those with an affinity for stronger coffee. I imagine a lot of experimentation and You Tube tutorials, as well. But lets face it, you'll never get it as good as Esso Coffee. Hurry down to 4700 N. 12th Street, Suite 107,
and see for yourself seven days a week, starting at 7 am daily.