13 December, 2019, 23:51

Presta Coffee is dedicated to bringing Nordic coffee culture to Tucson

Enjoy their hand-picked, rotating selection of freshly sourced, locally roasted beans at both Tucson locations.

Curtis Zimmerman, the founder/owner of Presta Coffee Roasters, is dedicated to bringing Nordic coffee culture to Tucson, one cup at a time.

In contrast to the dark, bitter roasts, syrupy lattes and quick, grab-it-and-go focused service of conventional coffee chains, the Nordic style coffee takes a slower, more intentional approach. Great attention and care is given to everything from the origin and fermentation process of the beans to the style of roast to how and when to brew and enjoy the perfect cup.

A Nordic style of coffee

“Really understanding the difference between America’s coffee culture and Europe’s coffee, that’s where it started for me,” said Zimmerman. “The coffee style in the Nordic areas is more community-centered, with much lighter roasts and a much different style of serving.”

Zimmerman first encountered the Nordic approach to coffee culture during his travels on the international bicycle racing circuit many years ago. But, it wasn’t until recently that he realized Tucson was ready for the subtle, delicate, craft-style brews and relaxed, community environment of a Nordic-style coffee house.

“For me, coffee in that style went hand in hand with the bike racing, but it was mainly based in Europe,” he said. “About seven or eight years ago, I started to see the Nordic approach spread, first in Australia and then in the U.S. in places like Portland and San Francisco. I opened this business a couple of years ago when I realized the time was right to bring it to Tucson.”

Humble beginnings escalated quickly

Presta first began in 2012 as Stella Java, a coffee cart based at Saint Mary’s Hospital. Soon the business outgrew its cart-based clientele and moved to the newly built Mercado San Agustin. Originally offering coffees sourced wholesale from fellow local roasters Exo Roast in Downtown Tucson, Zimmerman’s business at the Mercado grew to the point that it finally made sense to begin sourcing and roasting his own beans.

With the new venture came a new name: Presta Coffee Roasters, a reference to a type of air valve on mountain and racing bikes. Presta sounded clean, modern, and unique while giving a subtle nod to Zimmerman’s racing days.

With the new name arose a need for a larger space to fulfill the dream of roasting coffee beans in house. When an opportunity arose, in the form of a space on First Avenue near Grant, so began the start of a house brand of coffee and birth of their second location.

Presta’s coffee roasting operation and second retail location are in a relaxed, modern-looking space, with long, bar-like wooden tables with metal accents. The design hints at both the business’ Nordic inspirations and to bicycle culture.

Interior at Presta Coffee Roasters

Interior at Presta Coffee Roasters (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Craft-based, hand selection & keeping abreast of industry trends

Zimmerman takes a craft-based approach to Presta’s coffee offerings much like a craft beer brewer. While darker roasting techniques can mask old beans or flaws in the coffee, the lighter roasting style of Nordic style coffee is much less forgiving, so beans require careful selection.

To ensure the quality and flavor palate of Presta’s coffees, Zimmerman visits the farms where the beans are grown, favors single-origin coffees rather than blends, and keeps an open mind about newer, experimental processes in coffee production in addition to the old world, traditional style of cultivation.

The result is a hand-picked, rotating selection of freshly sourced, locally roasted beans unlike any other spot in town. In turn, Presta has received several awards, including Food and Wine Magazine’s Best Coffee in Arizona for 2018 and 2019.

Coffee beans at Presta Coffee Roasters

Coffee beans at Presta Coffee Roasters (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Rotating coffee selection

Presta offers a rotating selection of single original coffees and select coffee blends, offering coffee by the cup or whole beans by the bag at both their First Avenue and Mercado San Augustin locations.

Presta’s coffee varieties are best enjoyed black or with minimal sugar or milk, according to Zimmerman. Since Nordic-style roasts are lighter, the resulting coffees reveal more delicate flavors, reflecting floral and fruit-based notes. Zimmerman recommends sipping slowly and allowing flavors to reveal themselves as you savor your cup.

Walking you through the selection

Much like the taproom at a craft brewery, Presta’s coffee selections change regularly depending on seasonal availability, so don’t be afraid to ask your barista for help in choosing your first cup.

Milk-based drinks are also available, such as the Honey Lavender Latte, which combines floral lavender notes with delicate Ethiopian blend coffee.

Latte at Presta Coffee Roasters

Latte at Presta Coffee Roasters (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Rise Above

If you’re at the First Avenue location and want to enjoy your coffee with something sweet to eat, fresh pastries are provided daily by Tucson-based Rise Above Bakery, a new venture by former Prep and Pastry pastry chef Hannah Houlden.

“Rise Above is a solo project I started this last summer,” said Houlden. “I am lucky enough to partner with Curtis and his fabulous Presta team, offering organic, scratch, local and seasonal treats and breakfast pastries at Presta’s First Avenue location every day.”

Rise Above pastries can also be found at La Posada on the weekends or ordered via Houlden’s Instagram account @houldens.riseabove.

Looking ahead

As Presta’s business continues to expand, Zimmerman envisions offering tasting events and similar inroads into coffee culture education. He also foresees expanding further into the wholesale market, possibly opening another spot or two in Tucson, and eventually spreading the gospel of Nordic coffee culture to our neighbors to the north in the Phoenix area.

“Creating a community to expose the coffees themselves is key for me,” said Zimmerman. Rest assured, Presta does this well.

Presta Coffee Roasters is located at 2502 N. First Ave. and at 100 S. Avenida del Convento Ste. 180 in the Mercado San Augustin.

For more information and hours, visit prestacoffee.com or call (520) 333-7146.

Julie Jennings Patterson is a second generation Tucson freelance writer and journalist, who grew up helping her dad write restaurant reviews. She's also a musician and community radio DJ.

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