Caffeine Fix: The Roosevelt Row coffee crawl
Graphic by Noemi GonzalezRoosevelt Row is known for its art scene. Every First Friday, local artists nervously exhibit their pieces in galleries starting from Central Avenue all the way down to Seventh Street. While art galleries might rule the majority of the district, coffeehouses come in at a close second.
With five coffee shops along Roosevelt Street within walking distance of each other, a faux bar-crawl was just screaming to be created. That’s why I decided to map them all out and try Lola Coffee, Fair Trade Coffee, Songbird Coffee & Tea House, Jobot Coffee and Red Hut Coffee all in one go.
The one rule of the crawl is: You must order one beverage from each location. If you like, you can even sample a pastry or two. For tips, reviews and pointers, follow my journey on the Roosevelt Row Coffee Crawl.
Lola Coffee 1001 N. 3rd Avenue
The first stop is Lola Coffee, a small urban coffeehouse with a mustard yellow exterior too loud to miss. Walking in, the see-through, glass wall just across from me captures my attention first. Behind it stands a bean hopper, a machine that grinds espresso and coffee beans in store. This guarantees fresh roasts and blends.
As a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur, this instantly peaks my interest.
Stepping up to the counter, I glance over the hand-written, framed menu. From freshly squeezed OJ to the classic Americano, the main theme seems to be fresh, in-house ingredients used to create a limited but carefully crafted list of choices.
According to the two baristas working today, the most popular beverage by far is the Matador, a latte with mocha, a dash of cinnamon and a large helping of homemade whipped cream.
Excited to start the crawl, I eagerly (and foolishly) order a medium Matador for $3.75. Mixing the drink quickly, the barista hands it to me within seconds of placing my order.
“You like it?” she asks.
I do. Unlike the overly-sweet Starbucks lattes we’ve grown accustomed to, the coffee is truly the star of the show. Rich and not too bitter, the flavor is enhanced by slight traces of mocha and spicy cinnamon. The whip cream on top is the perfect, light counterbalance to the drink, making it easy to slam down.
Knowing I had four other beverages ahead of me, however, I try to take it slow. I have the choice of many a wooden table with metal stools and chairs or a black leather couch in the middle of the store. On this excursion, the couch is the obvious choice.
Between sips of the Matador, I admire the art scattered on the walls. All extremely bright, the paintings portray animals, nature and people along with a few fitting depictions of coffee.
I slurp the remaining liquid from my cup, and it's time for the second location.
Taking a left outside the door, I am pleased to see the cobblestone pathway is almost entirely covered in trees up until First Avenue. Passing by the noble, life-size Roman soldier guarding the Centurion Restaurant and Bar, I stop at the Trinity Church to admire the sculptures and artwork of its cathedral.
Breaking slightly away from Roosevelt by taking a left on First Avenue, the Fair Trade Cafe is a mere five-minute walk from Lola.
Fair Trade Cafe 1020 N. 1st Avenue
With a maroon-and-gold, hand-painted sign displayed in the window, Fair Trade is a great second destination for ASU students, even if it is slightly off Roosevelt.
As opposed to Lola, Fair Trade is much more toned-down in its color scheme. While sharp notes of hot pinks, blues and yellows bounce off the art and chalkboard menus, most of the colors are subdued and pastel. A hand-painted “Coffee with Conscience” trademark weaves itself around the counter, surrounded by flowers and swirls.
Fair Trade is much busier than Lola, with more than 20 customers bustling in and out during my stay. Luckily, I come at a slow time and waltz right up to the counter.
I ask the barista for the shop’s biggest hit. She tells me it's hard to pinpoint.
“But I can help narrow your selection,” she says. “What are you in the mood for – coffee or tea?”
Since more lattes and coffee-infused beverages seem to be in my future, I decide on tea. She recommends the coconut almond flavor that they brew in-house, as opposed to the pre-sweetened China Mist iced teas that they offer.
As a line begins to grow behind me, I wait a little while before I try my drink, but it is well worth it. I was a bit hesitant to try anything with coconut in it (I’m not a huge fan), but before I began I told myself I would try anything the baristas recommended to me.
Because I was raised by a very southern grandma, I’ve always been a fan of sweet tea. More recently however, loose-leaf tea without sweetener has become one of my favorite after-school rewards.
The coconut almond tea is unlike any other I’ve had before. Not super sweet and tropical like many coconut-flavored products are, the tea is calming and savory like a chai, but with nutty notes that add an additional level of flavor. The coconut acts as a natural sweetener, making the tea a delicious and relaxing hot beverage. (But since we are in Arizona, they can also make it iced.)
Let’s be honest here: Any sort of beverage crawl calls for the occasional bathroom break. At Fair Trade, you need to ask for a key (which is attached to a comically large spoon) and then enter the one-person bathroom. Another funny quirk is the fact the hand soap is in a condiment squirt bottle, but hey, it’s a much nicer bathroom than many downtown café toilets.
Walking out of the bathroom, a small bookcase offers board games like Cranium and Taboo, which makes Fair Trade a fun anti-studying getaway. Plus, if you get hungry during your crawl, they offer paninis and pastries (with gluten-free options) that might help sop up the gratuitous amount of liquid that five coffeehouses guarantees.
I finish at Fair Trade and head back to Roosevelt, fixing myself up in the mirrored reflections of the Cavco Homes building windows. Crossing First Street, the Phoenix street art scene begins to enhance the aesthetics of the crawl. From bright skulls to magenta buildings, Roosevelt Row might just claim the title of the most colorful street in Phoenix.
A stone’s throw away from Second Street and a whopping seven-minute walk from Fair Trade, SPM’s 2014 “Best Place to Grab Coffee” winner (see page 34), Songbird Coffee & Tea House takes its spot as number three on this adventure.
Songbird Coffee & Tea House 214 E. Roosevelt Street.
Smack dab in the middle of the coffee crawl, Songbird is my personal favorite out of our five destinations. Just past the food truck stop for each month’s First Friday, a flurry of painted birds leads you straight to the entrance. (You know you’ve found the right place if a birdcage sits just to the right of the door.)
A neon-green menu is the first thing to catch my eye as I walk in. With scrabble letters spelling out each menu option, a quirky and eclectic atmosphere helps set Songbird apart from the multitude of other downtown coffee shops. But the authenticity of Songbird’s coffees and loose-leaf teas are what make them shine.
From toddys to a large selection of black, green, herbal and white teas, the drink selection is seemingly endless. Some of my favorite teas include the ginger peach black tea, the cranberry breeze herbal iced tea and the mango green tea. The coffee is equally delicious and, depending on the beverage you order, latte art may be included.
During the crawl, however, I want to stick with one of my classic favorites: the chai tea latte. (I order the one on the sweeter side but I’ve heard great things about its spicy counterpart.) It’s truly the best chai tea latte I’ve ever had and it’s my go-to order whenever I step in a coffee shop. Sweet and comforting with layers upon layers of flavor, the chai here is locally grown and delightful.
Again, the couch beckons, and as I gleefully sip my chai, I admire the quaint room. To the right of the entrance, the beautiful, natural light from the floor-to-ceiling window cascades over shelves and shelves of books and knickknacks. I can’t help but grin at the large “ASU” sign and Sparky settled in at the top shelf.
My favorite part about Songbird by far is that it’s the first place where I’ve been a regular. The baristas quickly start to remember you and your “usual” order starts to become commonplace. With friendly service and delicious, made-to-order drinks, Songbird is a lovely home-away-from-home for any tea or coffee geek.
If you’re looking for a quick pit stop on the crawl, step into GreenHaus, Songbird’s eccentric next-door neighbor. With vintage and antique odds and ends scattered throughout the store, it’s a nice little break from the smell of coffee beans.
After admiring even more street art, I take a right on Fifth Street and diverge slightly off of Roosevelt for the second-to-last crawl destination: Jobot Coffee.
Jobot Coffee 918 N. 5th Street
Other than the neon “Coffee” sign above the door and the multiple picnic tables on the front lawn, Jobot looks like any other house on Fifth Street. Pushing open the front door, I enter the urban hangout that is every starving artist’s paradise.
With pastries immediately eyeing me down, I hear the blueberry donut calling my name. I quickly order one and throw in a cappuccino, thinking that adding more coffee to my afternoon diet would be a super-smart idea.
While the barista makes my cappuccino, I clutch my donut and try to figure out where to sit. Yet another couch calls out to me but, although the mock living room in front of the fireplace looks tempting, I rank people watching over comfort. By the time I choose my seat in the corner of the room, my drink is ready.
The cappuccino is flavorful and smooth. Unlike many I’ve had, it isn’t too watery and provides a nice pick-me-up. The triumph of the stop, however, is the blueberry donut.
Let’s get something straight here: I am one of those weird people that don’t like donuts. But this donut, this magnificent blueberry donut, is amazing. A pastry that I could only compare to a blueberry muffin with blueberry frosting on top, it is a stroke of culinary genius that I hope to enjoy again soon.
The interior of Jobot is metropolitan chic, showcasing the work of local artists that changes quite frequently. Today's exhibit includes bright, graffiti-like paintings that contrast with the homey feel of the interior.
The people-watching is superb as well. From a fashion student watching multiple lingerie commercials to two bearded men having a heated discussion between sips of iced lattes, it is a great time.
The only down side is that on a hot, Arizona afternoon with a large amount of customers, it is pretty steamy. I decide to sit outside with the other half of the clientele and enjoy the urban feel of the city while trying not to consume my donut in one giant bite.
Heading back to Roosevelt, the last stop is a common sight for commuters who take Seventh Street to Fillmore Street in the mornings. Walking up Roosevelt and almost hitting Seventh Street, the final stop is the often-overlooked Red Hut Coffee.
Red Hut Coffee 620 E. Roosevelt St.
Every school morning, I wave to a smiling man holding a sign advertising the daily special at Red Hut Coffee. But I never feel as though I have the time to stop in and try a cup. Now that I’ve finally tried a drink here, I’m going to factor the coffee house into my daily driving time.
I ask the barista what she thinks the most sought-after drink on the Red Hut menu is. She delights me by suggesting the caramelccino, an ice-blended caramel latte with extra caramel drizzle and whip cream. I think it is more than fitting to have a delicious dessert to end this five-course beverage buffet.
As she prepares the drink, I sit across from the main accent wall. There is truth in advertising at Red Hut – the wall is red, extremely red. Almost the entire interior is a muted, tried and true red with small accents of tan, chocolate brown and green.
The accent wall hosts geometric sequences of mirrors, photos and varying wall colors. My favorite by far is their logo, “A Happy Cup of Awesomeness,” which gently floats next to a cup of their signature coffee.
The barista is nice enough to bring the drink directly to me as there are only two other customers in the café, and I am excited to see the excessive amount of caramel drizzle she included.
Taking a sip, the caramelccino is super-sweet and super-yummy. Salted caramel has been my obsession for the past few months and this take on a frappuccino easily satisfies my craving.
Red Hut also offers a wide assortment of frozen yogurt flavors and toppings, making their frappuccino combinations customizable and nearly infinite.
A delectable end to the crawl, Red Hut is a friendly coffeehouse whose advertised Peanut Butter Cup and Cupcake Lattes will have me coming back very soon.
Now that I’ve survived the crawl, it’s time to wean myself off of that caffeine drip. Drink a lot of water and take some vitamin C if you’re feeling especially jittery. Try to stay away from sweets (even fruit) and substitute in a raw carrot instead. We’ll be fine – just make sure to brag about your latest coffee achievement to all your friends.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AlexDersch.