Artisanal coffee is probably not your first thought when you imagine a beverage associated with Tucson. Usually, a margarita or prickly pear sun tea comes to mind, or maybe Whiskey del Bac.
Yet as with so many things around the Old Pueblo, blink your eyes and everything has changed on the libations front. The third wave bean scene is officially a-jumping.
Each roaster has its own ethos, own aesthetic, and its own approach, and they’re all contributing to a movement to achieve a sustainable, ethical local coffee economy.
Here’s a list of where to catch the buzz.
Dripping with Old West history, Arbuckle is an even older mainstay on the Southern Arizona coffee roasting scene.
Arbuckle is a distributorship, not a cafe, so you can’t actually sit down and have a cup at the industrial facility. However, you can get tons of blends and teas online.
The company, which is certified organic and fair trade, is particularly known for its original Ariosa beans, which are nicknamed “The Coffee That Won The West.” Arbuckle recommends freezing your pound of whole Ariosa beans — don’t forget to take out the complementary peppermint stick, lest it gets too minty.
For more information, visit arbucklecoffee.com.
Big Heart roasts their own beans from Uganda, Colombia, and Ethiopia. They also sell beans from other regional roasteries — and all proceeds go to local charities.
Their motto is “Love and Espresso Served Daily,” which reflects not only their hours of operation but of course their premise. Big Heart has selected a variety of charities to benefit, such as Janie’s Fund, Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and SAAF, St. Francis Homeless Shelter, and Codys Friends Charity. The new owners show their support for the community by hosting monthly talent shows as well as arts and language classes on Sundays.
Coffee is available online or in their cute cafe. Two unusual items Big Heart’s menu features are Japanese Iced Coffee, which involves dripping hot coffee onto ice, and cold Shaken Aeropress coffee, which yields a thick foam head.
While many cafes and most of the roasteries on this list have tea, Big Heart specializes in it, showcasing Maya, Arbuckle, and Seven Cups brands’ leaves. Their signature drink, though, is the Big Heart Shake, which consists of ice cream, espresso, and flavored syrup.
For more information, visit bigheartcoffee.com.
Black Crown Coffee Co. roasts 70 pounds of coffee every two days in-house on a Primo roaster (and has been for about the last six years). They’re the only coffee joint in town that by default delineates on your emailed receipt what beans were in your cold brew — they’re just that dedicated.
They’re most popular, however, for their specialty menu, which involves frankly frightening beverage options like Turbo Coke and Breast Milk, both of which have very high street value (according to back-alley whispers). They also have tons of seating, excellent pastries, and sarcastic baristas.
Keep up with Black Crown Coffee Co. on Facebook.
Black Standard Coffee, inspired by the owners’ own black standard poodle, Jake, is a passion project with a mission.
To order the “direct trade coffee” beans — from Ethiopia, Brazil, and Guatemala — or a Central and South American Espresso blend, check out the website. It reveals the story behind the brand and has fun, supportive features for merchandise like “select a mug, choose a cause, and we give back.”
For more information and to order coffee, visit blackstandardcoffee.com.
The newly opened coffee shop has a vision beyond that of local coffee supplier. According to their website, they are “destined to impact a more global population.”
View their single origins — Honduras, Ethiopia, Brazil, and Costa Rica — and blends online or head on over to sample the brew.
For more information, visit blessedgrounds.com.
Each of the three Caffe Luce (loo-chay) locations are distinctive and offer different beverages and aesthetics.
Some locations have alcohol; others do not. Some have complex menus; others are simple and include a locally baked pastry. Overheard conversations are lively and topics eccentric, but the ambiance is calm enough to get work done and deals organized.
The coffee roasts are as equally balanced as the setting — smooth and rich.
The roastery is particularly known for the cold brews they make from their beans, and their house coffee is reliably delicious.
Keep up with Caffe Luce Coffee Roasting Co. on Facebook.
Cartel has a powerful commercial presence with Arizona coffee roasting. They supply hotels, restaurants, and other cafes throughout the state with beans.
Cartel’s original location opened in Tempe in 2008, and now the company has a total of eight cafes, two of which are in Tucson.
Regardless of the bean variety, which is sourced from all over the coffee-producing world, Cartel’s San Franciscan SF-25 model roaster takes them just to a light brown color. According to the company’s educational blog, this keeps the beans’ “fidelity.”
The Cartel near Grant and Campbell has an industrial workspace aesthetic. The Downtown Broadway location emanates a slightly more retro steampunk vibe, strewn with bicycle parts and half-burnished bronze fixtures. Cortados are the hit there, as are the cold brews.
Always en trend, and often the trendsetter, Cartel offers curated coffee subscriptions which are available on their website.
For more information, visit cartelcoffeelab.com.
Crossroads Coffee Company does things a little differently. Not only do they not use a drum roaster, but they roast on such a micro level that they tailor tiny batches to obtain individual flavor profile effects. These range from smokey, fruity and chocolatey to “winey,” according to their website.
The roastery — certified by Rainforest Alliance — places a heavy emphasis on social equity and personalization of bean blends. Their slogan is “Coffee Uniquely Yours,” and they mean it. Their relatively rare fluid air roaster only touches Fair Trade Organic specialty beans, gently drawing out their nuanced regional characteristics.
It seems surprising that a shot of espresso is less than a couple of dollars, but it’s true. And then you can eat a sandwich or vape in their C3 Vape Lounge to take the edge off the four macchiatos that went down so smoothly.
Keep up with Crossroads Coffee Company on Facebook.
According to EXO’s Amy Smith, what makes the coffee roastery distinct is “an ethos when it comes to farmer-focused projects in under-recognized or -supported coffee communities and especially when it comes to Mexico.”
Smith says EXO believes in the character of Mexico’s coffee and that it’s been an overlooked region for a long time in the industry, and they work hard to support small landholders and farmers.
Customers can buy a two- or four-week subscription to coffee from one of several regions online or opt for a coffee buyers’ choice subscription. Alternatively, go into the cafe and enjoy their brews in their hip Downtown-area building — they frequently have live music, art openings, and literary events (as well as vino, mezcal, and breakfast).
EXO often has fascinating — and strong — hyperlocal coffee drinks on the menu, some featuring chiltepin peppers and others mesquite syrup.
For more information, visit exocoffee.com.
Hermosa co-founders, Nick Hoenig and Dana Fehr have been roasting sustainably-sourced coffee in Tucson together since 2015. Cup Cafe at Hotel Congress, Cafe Passe, and Tall Boys serve Hermosa coffee, in addition to a number of smaller restaurants and private clubs.
Hermosa’s first physical location opened on July 27, 2018, in an 800-square-foot converted shipping container nestled in the center of the Mercado San Agustin Annex. Their interior is surprisingly delightful, more capacious than it seems from outside.
Hermosa’s coffee is similarly bright, with a complex mouthfeel.
Hermosa’s website describes in detail each of the socially and environmentally responsible coffee varietals that they sell. Subscriptions and one-time orders are available online.
They also sell their roasted beans — and Le Buzz pastries — at the Annex location.
For more information, visit hermosacoffee.com.
Ombre Coffee roasts beans for all six Bisbee Breakfast Club locations and for a smattering of the local Jerry Bob’s diners.
Owner Terry Kyte selects beans from around the world to make thoughtful blends like the mellow Brazilian/Central American concoction he named “Picky Nicky”.
According to chief roaster James Willis, Kyte aims for balance. When blending, Kyte marries bean varieties that cancel out the negatives of other beans in the roast and enhance one another’s positive qualities. This creates a harmonious mouthfeel. It perfectly complements Bisbee Breakfast Club’s peppery chicken fried steak and Jerry Bob’s chilaquiles.
Like most local coffee roasters, Ombre uses a drum roaster, turning a batch of up to 20 kilos of green beans toasty brown at a time (that’s 44 pounds, for you SAE stalwarts).
Willis said that Ombre Coffee bought a building near East 12th Street and South Olsen Avenue, where they will centralize and expand their roasting and distribution operations.
For more information, visit ombrecoffee.com.
Presta Coffee Roasters has two brick-and-mortar locations — the one in the Mercado has a bar and the one on First has table service. In addition, they sell an extensive variety of high-quality roasts wholesale. They also offer an assortment of coffee subscription services.
The roastery has not compromised an iota of quality for its business diversification endeavors. In fact, as of this month, they’re involved in a shared multi-roaster program with Augie’s Coffee Roasters out of Redlands, California. The collaboration aims to further advance their understanding of the art and science of coffee.
Food and Wine Magazine named Presta Arizona’s top roastery in March 2018 and April 2019— an honor owner/cyclist Curtis Zimmerman wishes to maintain.
For more information, visit prestacoffee.com.
Now in their 21st year of business, Raging Sage might be the origin of Tucson’s coffee-roasting movement.
Owners Julie and Roger Sliker are all about fostering sustainability and strengthening local community while purveying stellar product.
Cultivated care and caffeinated oomph permeate every micro batch. The bean, served in beverage form or bagged for homebrew, is hand roasted on their funky, uniquely engineered roaster. The bean is served in beverage form in the cafe or bagged for homebrew.
Raging Sage sells a rotational selection of beans in-house and online. Feast and Bentley’s House of Coffee and Tea serve it to their own clientele.
The foam to top the latte? Their iconic pastries and patio provide shelter for the soul. Order the scones, bring your pooch, and sip some Sonoran tradition.
For more information, visit ragingsage.com.
All of Savaya’s coffee beans come from singular origins. They are all organic and fairly traded. Their baristas are expertly trained in every aspect of the seed-to-cup coffee process, and yet given creative freedom. Savaya’s beans are perfectly roasted, each in a manner specific to their origin. They are striving for “exceptional.”
The art of coffee has been in Turkish owner Burc Maruflu’s family since 1551 when his ancestor was the sole coffee provisioner to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (of the Ottoman Empire). Maruflu and his fellow Savayans pass this legacy on by offering comprehensive coffee classes the first Saturday of every month at their Williams Centre location. Topics include history, roasting, brewing, and tasting.
For those who cannot attend the coffee classes, Savaya’s blog is informative. Locally roasted beans, coffee subscriptions, and homebrewing supplies are available on the company website.
For more information, visit savayacoffee.com.
With all this talk about nuance and terroir, fermentation and cupping, hitting up a coffee roastery can be intimidating. Tucson Coffee Roaster baristas, however, aren’t pretentious.
TCR takes a lighthearted approach to the art and science of roastery, while still taking coffee seriously. They make five of their fun syrup flavors in-house, and they serve their espresso drinks with a chocolate-covered espresso bean.
Their website, where you can get wholesale beans, will soon feature a video tutorial called Coffee University: Coffee 101 for people who want to be more conversant with the topic.
The roastery sells beans to several restaurants and shops around Southern Arizona. Try their tasty horchata latte or latest seasonal varieties.
For more information, visit tcroasters.com.
Anna Perreira started Yellow Brick Coffee in 2011 with crowdsourced IndieGoGo funds. She and her brother David opened their roastery in 2014.
Today, Anna and David provide individual and retail consumers with coffee education, beans, and a place to enjoy both. They actually travel around the world to source their beans, so they personally know the farmers and see the conditions in which they grow and process the beans.
Each cup of coffee has a story, which you can trace directly back to the farm from which it came.
Anna and David offer in-person classes on topics like cupping and roasting, and their blog brims with information. Topics include brewing and the politics and benefits of coffee tourism. They’re also out in the community at farmer’s markets.
Online, they provide regionally-themed subscriptions and a roaster’s choice curation.
For more information, visit yellowbrickcoffee.com.
[This article was originally written on September 24, 2018, and most recently updated on September 26, 2019]