Happy New Year! I hope the year has started out with a positive outlook, and your holidays were filled with great memories.
My last post was right before I headed to Phoenix and then to Tucson. There is nothing quite like a visit with a true friend. Having time with Serena is a gift that is difficult to describe. To witness someone so important to the arc of my story now existing in such complete happiness is enough to make my heart explode.
Over the years, I have found that my true happiness is in witnessing the happiness of others. Hearing good news from anyone I treasure is cause for celebration. To see such a dear friend in perfect partnership and adding the long-desired canine to the mix was awesome!
The coffee did not disappoint either!
The first stop after the Airport Happy Dance was Lux Coffee.
EVERYTHING at Lux was perfect.
I can rate this coffee shop in America’s top ten for a perfect latte. Here we were in this crowded hipster location trying to talk over the noise while we were waiting for our lattes. Over all that noise, I caught both of us tipping our ears toward the barista when the milk steaming was perfect. We were like a couple of bats with radar for the machine noises. Though we were maintaining eye contact, our ears were swiveling around listening to the sounds of proper technique.
We decided to go outside to enjoy our drinks, and as much as we had to talk about, there was absolute silence for the first several sips. I hope you can grasp what happens when two complete coffee snobs encounter a perfect drink. I’m pretty certain that long dormant springs bubbled up out of the ground and unicorns and rainbows winked into existence. I know my city view was diamond sparkled because I was seeing everything through the prism of a spontaneous joyful tear for that perfect drink. It took a few minutes for hearing to return because I was transported out of body over that first sip. I guess by now you are getting the hint that this is THE place to go for espresso if you are in Phoenix.
Second on the hit parade would be the tamales we picked up for dinner the second night. Sound the trumpets: Masa Perfection at the Tamale Store!!!!
Delicate tender corn masa very gently patted into submission around chicken and green chili; green corn and cream cheese; and spinach, mushroom, and green chili fillings.
Om NOM! These are clouds captured in cornhusks.
This tiny location is take-out only, which is probably good because we would have been arrested for public food porn. Here’s the good news: this tiny family-owned business is going to start shipping these heavenly angels soon. Order some, haul out your steamer basket, and prepare for Tamale Nirvana.
Cartel Coffee was our second coffee stop, and it did not disappoint. I’m pretty sure the cashier figured out we were serious coffee snobs because I nearly
licked hugged the beautiful La Marzocca machine. Even better was the teamwork behind the counter. The side-by-side barista action was a beautiful dance.
We sat out front to watch the student types and their dogs rolling past on skateboards. We talked about random randomness, but every once in a while, we would fall into silence as the smoky chaff from the coffee roaster would blow down the alley and waft around the corner in our direction. That smell is right up there with the scent of good barbeque, and I’m sure we looked like hounds hunting rabbit.
Cartel does a quality drink; their roast is different from Lux, but the precision and care is evident in everything they do. It should be testament to the experience that I don’t remember if we solved any world problems, but I do remember that beautiful latte!
Of course, there was plenty of alcohol and other good food high jinx, but I’m sticking to the highlights that you can experience if you find yourself in the Phoenix area.
I can’t leave this part of my trip without mentioning how beautiful and green Phoenix was. Citrus trees were everywhere, and returning from a walk with the dog included a fistful of tangerines or grapefruits. Lemons were lying on the sidewalks and common areas like little Easter eggs. The birds were very active and noisy, and just past the neighborhood where I was staying was an imposing mountain offering a very steep and challenging hike. Right across the street. Boom. Mountain.
Tucson. Oh Tucson.
Utterly beautiful, surrounded on every horizon by jagged mountain peaks. Riding south from Phoenix through the valley on I-10, the cacti became successively bigger and more dramatic. The view is very much like Albuquerque, but the dessert is OMNIPRESENT. Everywhere you look, you get the sense that humans are puny little morsels that the wilderness could easily swallow. My desire to strike out and explore was fairly tempered by the landscape, even though it is wanderlust beautiful. Those lovely mountains are the guiding star no matter where you wander there.
Yes, our first stop in town was for coffee. Savaya has opened a place in North Tucson. They are a long established family roaster with three locations. The interior is really pretty, but the location is in the burbs and the hipster vibe is sorely lacking. I’m going to throw in a “Zen” description and admit that it was very laid back. The best part was a lovely barista that knew her milk management, and the texture of my latte was spot on. I’m not going to claim that I loved their roast, but I could get used to it for sure. It was a really solid, professional latte. The menu offers one size, one price, and no fussing around. I liked this place and enjoyed my drink.
The rest of my time in Tucson was brief but fun. I don’t have a great deal to offer from the food scene because I was there for less than 24 hours. Like every other city of size in this country, the cookie cutter conglomerates holds sway, and even in the middle of the historic areas, there are the usual suspects of fast food and mega marts. What I did love was the strong support for the little guys and the busy, hectic, and eclectic local food and coffee scene.
I wrapped up 2014 with a holiday season filled with the love of family and dear friends. I indulged my coffee snobbery with one of the best partners in crime you could ever wish for. I know I should include some sort of recipe in this blog post, so here it is:
- Mix a long-term friendship with some terrific work ethic, and stir it around in the trenches of hard labor for a few years.
- Divide in half and let this mixture rest for a while.
- Bring the two halves together again, and stir in some laughter and tears.
- Serve with a cup or two of extraordinary coffee.
Note: This recipe is guaranteed to make the world a better place.