It was a perfect day to hang out with Al Gusto Coffee. The pre-snowy weather was kicking in with that distinct chilly bite and the sky overhead was rolling with several tones of gray.
In a quiet neighborhood at the end of the cul-de-sac sat what looked like an old tool shed on wheels. But it is not a tool shed on wheels and is a fully functional coffee bar — on wheels — that was hand-crafted specifically for the owner.
Al Gusto Coffee is the caffeinated love child of Aldo Boccaccio, who is no stranger to the service industry.
Maneuvering between hotels in the U.S. and Mexico, Boccaccio began his quest to find the best coffee around because, let’s be honest, most “courtesy” coffee available in lobbies and the continental breakfast area are usually the dusty no-name off-brands. They’re usually pretty bland even after adding those flavor crystals.
“Yes, basically this all started as a hobby,” said Boccaccio while making his signature Horchata Latte for a customer, touching on his venture into the coffee cart hustle. “My career actually started in Mexico, where I am from originally, selling tours in La Paz. Eventually, I worked my way up to Reservations Manager at a prominent hotel which led me landing a job with the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. Which is where the cart you see here was actually built.”
Boccaccio worked in hospitality for almost 25 years before moving into apartment property management. Unfortunately, this was a bad move because he did not enjoy that switch of career. Fortunately, he received a job offer in Marana to run hospitality for a respected lodge in 2017, which he actually enjoyed until 2020 hit.
Boccaccio and his family briefly considered moving back to San Diego but that idea was tossed out. Not to mention, he fell in love with Marana and knew it was where he wanted to stay. Thankfully, his family felt the same way as well.
“After being at home for three months I was like, I can't do this. So, during that time I started thinking about coffee,” he said, making a classic cappuccino with the heart-shaped flourish on top, of course.
“I started trying coffee everywhere. Then I thought different hotels have different cafeterias and different coffee shops. There was just something pulling me towards coffee. I started digging more into the coffee industry — where coffee came from, how it's grown — and I got really passionate about it. By the time I was laid off, I had all of this knowledge so I started making my own coffee at home.”
That passion took Boccaccio to farmers and flea markets when things began to slowly reopen. He even sold his coffee in random parking lots just to get the word out that Al Gusto Coffee is here for the community.
He’s providing real coffee and making really delicious coffee drinks, and it all started with an espresso machine.
Finding a sustainable coffee supplier in California who also does all of his roastings, Boccaccio would haul that heavy espresso machine to offices, parks, and, yes, hotels. This was to not only practice his newly found business venture skills but to also see what worked and what people wanted.
He also started shooting videos of himself making drinks and sharing recipes on social media. The creative idea took off much quicker than he had anticipated.
“Eventually, I want to be the local Marana roaster because Marana does not have a local coffee roasting company,” said Boccaccio. “Tucson and Phoenix have a ton of local roasters so I want to put Marana on the coffee roasting map. There should always be a local coffee shop with its own roaster and I think Marana needs that because it is growing so fast.”
Traveling to Marana, for me anyway, is a bit of a chore. On the I-10, any big rig truck sends my little plastic car shaking and skidding a bit more than I am cool with.
Luckily for all of us, Al Gusto Coffee does make its way south on regular occasions and for that, we can raise a paper cup filled with a sturdy brew to thank Boccaccio. Al Gusto’s coffee is worth the trip, be it here in Tucson, Marana, or anywhere.
There is a variety of specialty roasted beans you can purchase, all of which are brandishing names of Southern Arizona icons.
The Ironwood Blend, titled after the Ironwood Forest national monument, is a medium roast leaning toward the dark incorporating beans from Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. This is the blend you’re going to want for that first cup in the morning as it is very balanced and packed with flavor.
If you’re looking for something a little darker, yet super smooth, I’d go with the Santa Cruz blend. Here you are going to find beans from Brazil, Peru, and India, giving it a bolder statement of taste. Both blends are good for espresso but I’d hit up the Santa Cruz for that macchiato realness.
Or the Arizona Cowboy Blend, which is what Boccaccio uses in most of his drinks, exhibiting notes of caramel and cocoa, adding deep flavor to that mocha you so desperately need in the morning, afternoon, or whenever.
Al Gusto mocha time is good anytime.
The Horchata Mocha is just the tip of the coffee-berg at Al Gusto. The Caramel Churro Latte is a really fun delight and a good one for those with a bit of a sweet tooth.
If you’re looking for straight-up sweetness, you need their Turtle Mocha. Made with caramel, chocolate, and a hint of hazelnut, this is the drink all of the students would be sucking down on the regular if Boccaccio happened to open up a shop near the University.
Not into the sweet stuff? Al Gusto has Butter Pecan, Almond Chai, and Blackberry. Not to mention a selection of teas and cold brews.
Being a person that likes their coffee coming from a press or an old-school steam machine, I was not privy to the term “cake cups.” When I first heard that, I figured it was a frosted baked good sitting in a small bowl equipped with a handle.
They are those single-serving coffee containers you use for fancy pod machines. It's all the rage! Well, for those that swear by a cake cup being the best part of waking up, Al Gusto has a variety available.
Do yourself a favor and avoid getting yours from a chain shop that opens up on every corner or near a local coffee spot on Speedway Boulevard. Order your coffee cake cups from Boccaccio — an inventive, enterprising guy that is a proud member of the Marana Chamber of Commerce who is making Southern Arizona a better and buzzed place.
“In fact, some big corporate competitors have moved in right where I set up in Marana,” said Boccaccio with a laugh. “So far, the community has been coming out and supporting me and that makes me very happy. It shows that people want real coffee, good coffee, and local coffee. I am very happy to be that and provide that.”
For more information and to find out where the coffee cart is parked, visit algustocoffeeco.com and follow Al Gusto Coffee on Facebook and Instagram.
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Mark Whittaker began his journalism career in San Francisco around 1997. It was for a small Northern California music magazine that segued into contributing to numerous magazines, websites, newspapers and weeklies throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. Mark interviewed bands,...