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The Downtown Tucson Coffee Roundup, Summer '16 Edition

by James Jefferies

It is summer. The days are smokin' hot, of course, but more importantly, they’re longer. Those of us hardy enough to consider ourselves dyed-in-the-wool native Tucsonans know the sun burns long and bright, and so must we, no matter our occupation! To that end, we have nature’s gift to those with too much to do.


From construction workers to office ninjas and everyone in-between, there’s truly no better way to launch an all-out blitz on your workload than with a righteous cuppa joe. Of course, this time of year, you’re much more likely to reach for something iced, but whether you want the chill of something smooth and delicious or a roiling mug of exotic fire, there’s so much to choose from within our beloved Downtown area! Here’s a rundown of our favorite spots:

CARTEL COFFEE LAB A statewide favorite of caffeine aficionados, Cartel also goes so far as to offer a plethora of baked goods and even coffee makers/brewing systems for you to make your own. There’s a deep well of bean expertise among the staff here, and the location itself is spacious with a whole lot of sturdy wooden tables available, making for a solid meet-up spot along the southern edge of Downtown at 210 E. Broadway.

THE CUP CAFÉ This might not be your first guess when thinking of the myriad spots of Downtown at which to have coffee, but The Cup is an absolute breakfast icon, nestled firmly within the Hotel Congress. The baked eggs are a cherished parable of flavor, the omelets are always cooked to perfection, and the coffee is reliably tasty. They do offer some alternative coffee beverages, but frankly, the standard-issue java’s so good, we can’t think of wavering from it as the perfect follow-up to a great breakfast. 311 E. Congress

EXO ROAST CO. The newest player on the bean n’ brew scene Downtown, Exo resides next to beloved Tap N’ Bottle just past the 6th Avenue underpass, and has drawn raves for its exquisitely crafted cup of coffee. There is a decidedly minimalist bent to the proceedings here, not a ton of offerings, but what is here is aimed squarely at forever altering your expectations in terms of flavor and aroma. They trumpet the summer as ‘Cold Brew Season’ for good reason, and they regularly hold events such as their Analog Hour silent reading get-togethers and a smattering of live music. 403 N. 6th Ave.

IKE’S Ike’s is your basic friendly neighborhood coffee shop. Locally owned, in fact, Ike’s is our literal neighbor here at the Partnership, so our desire to extend them some love, given that they keep us mentally afloat, comes as little surprise. There are baked goods, salads, sandwiches, and always some kind of randomized bundt cake or specialty bread popping up in plastic wrap at the counter. Always tasty, never pretentious, Ike’s is the girl or boy next door you should have married, you big dummy. Ike's is at 100 N. Stone Ave, Suite 111.

ROASTED Charmingly billed as 'the hole in the wall that fills the gaps in your day', Roasted is a tiny little counter shop wedged against local favorite Baggin's near all the municipal buildings. Given the placement, if you happen to be Downtown for jury duty or some other legal/business whatnot (hey, life happens), Roasted may be just the ticket if you're short on time and need a quick pick-me-up or tidy snack item. 33 N. Stone Ave, Suite 15.

SHOT IN THE DARK CAFE A very different beast compared to many of the spots profiled here, Shot In The Dark Cafe is an eclectic, all-nighter kind of place. You might find the next Robert Rodriguez frenetically editing a film on his laptop or a pile of UA students or scene kids drying out after a rowdy show. Lots of food offerings, a ton of blended drinks, the menu lives large and in charge here and the joint almost serves as a perfectly preserved example of the Downtown that was, or a college coffee spot that magically migrated across 4th Ave. We love it, too! 121 E. Broadway Blvd.

SPARKROOT Sparkroot is a very distinctive, achingly hip animal by design, and has been ever since it opened up back in 2011 at the corner of 5th Avenue and Congress. They now feature the distinct flavors of Ritual Roasters Coffee, and it remains a terrific environment for curling up with one’s own laptop and never actually finishing that screenplay or belting out a torrent of emails. Their cold brew also remains a fantastic choice for people needing that morning juice but still wanting a reprieve from the heat. A myriad of sandwiches and other fare rounds out the menu. 245 E. Congress.