Category: Coffee Shops
Palio Coffee Shop

I love Las Vegas, but sometimes it’s nice to take a break from all the action. In the city that never sleeps, sometimes it’s hard to find a place to chill unless you go back to your hotel room. Since Las Vegas is a tourist attraction, of course my expectations for coffee shops is different than say in my hometown of Phoenix. However, seeing how Las Vegas is a hub for extravagant shows and one-of-a-kind shops and galleries, I could see someone establishing a coffee shop that had a cool twist or a novel idea. I think this would definitely appeal to visitors because at some point you want to sit down and relax and escape the incessant crowds.

 

But while we wait for that coffee shop to appear, there’s a cozy and delicious coffee shop called Palio, which is tucked away in the Bellagio Hotel. I actually stumbled on this establishment by accident because I made a wrong turn and found myself wandering through the shops and small eateries. Styled in the fashion of a Tudor-like cafe, Palio offers amazing coffee drinks and tasty treats, such as muffins, pastries, and sandwiches. My friend and I enjoyed huge mugs of some of the most incredible lattes and chilled for a couple of hours. The coffee shop offers beautiful views of the pool area, so it’s a also nice spot to people watch. Considering the fact that most things are more expensive in Vegas, I thought the prices on the menu were reasonable. The portions are generous, so you don’t feel cheated, and the customer service is more than satisfactory.

 

I was very impressed with Palio, and it was so nice to be able to sit down and not worry about watching the clock or navigating crowds. To be honest, I think most people are unaware of this gem, but if you ever find yourself near the Bellagio and you want a place to sit and relax check out Palio. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. 

Coffee Bar at The Henry

First, I have to go off topic here and say that the hamburger at The Henry is one of the best I have ever had in my life. This is not a hyperbole. I love hamburgers and, at some point, I order one at every restaurant I try. The reason the hamburger at The Henry is so amazing to me is that their meat is flavorful and not too dry (even when ordered well done) and their special sauce serves as a the perfect complement. The French Fries are great as well.

Now, back to the coffee. One of the first things you notice about The Henry is the beautiful European aesthetic of the restaurant and coffee bar. Located in the heart of Arcadia, just east of 44th street on Camelback Road, The Henry stands out as a happening hangout for people of all ages. The inside of the building feels European with its dark wood floors, various shades of blue walls and tapestries, and heavy wood tables accompanied with the traditional green bankers lamps. Since this place is almost always busy the tables near the front are usually taken, but there is an additional room off to the side with long rectangular tables and chairs for people to work or reserve for meetings. On a nice day, patrons can relax with a cup of coffee on their front porch area where there’s plenty of seating.

The food and pastries at the coffee bar are very tasty. The selection of breakfast sandwiches and cakes is pretty extensive. They also offer a variety specialty coffee drinks, such as mochas, cappuccinos, and espressos. I typically get their plain coffee or a café au lait. The coffee is pretty decent. It’s nothing to write home about, but at least their brew is not too heavy or too bland. Their customer service is also satisfactory, but my one complaint about this place is their layout. The line for ordering is right by the door, so, as soon as you walk in, you hit a wall of people. There’s not whole lot of room for people to stand in line, which, during peak hours, feels awkward. If it weren’t for that additional room, it would be next to impossible to guarantee an indoor place to sit. The parking seems plentiful, but come lunchtime or the weekends, this lot gets full pretty quickly. Fortunately, they do have a complimentary valet service for their patrons.

Since starting this coffee blog, I have found that the popular coffee spots don’t do a lot to promote community because they don’t have to. People bring their friends and family or their laptops. While I do enjoy having a cup of coffee at The Henry, it’s not exactly my “go-to.” I tend to prefer the less trendy places that have a more neighborhood feel.

Bikini Beans Coffee Review

I’ve only been to Bikini Beans once and that’s because I was so uncomfortable, I’ve never had any desire to go back. The location I went to was in the heart of central Phoenix, off 7th street, just south of Indian School. The coffee shop is mostly a drive thru operation, with a few tables on their small outdoor patio. What apparently makes this coffee shop “unique” and apparently an attraction is that their baristas are all young women scantily clad in bikinis. The menu of specialty coffee drinks looks a lot like what you would see at other places.

I ordered a plain cup of joe, so I wasn’t expecting anything extraordinary. Ironically, though I was uncomfortable being the only female patron amidst a long line of guys cruising by to get their morning caffeine fix, I was surprised to find that the barista was the friendliest person behind the counter I’ve so far experienced in my voyage of trying out different cafes. Even though there was a line developing at the drive thru, the woman took the time to say hello and ask me how my day was going. Most of the time when I go to these shops, the baristas are not really present. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a long line of customers or if I’m the only one in the shop. I respect the fact that baristas, or anyone working in a coffee shop, has a tough job. Customers take their coffee very seriously. However, with the number of coffee shops out there, good customer service goes a very long way. It doesn’t take much to make people feel welcomed, but it can truly make a difference in someone’s day. In a world where most of our connections are virtual, something as small as even a smile will make a lasting impression on someone.

Bikini is obviously not the type of coffee shop you go to if you want to meet up with a friend or work on your laptop. It’s mainly for people who need to quickly grab coffee on their way to work, with the perk of seeing an attractive woman in a bikini.

On the company’s website, part of their mission statement reads:

“As the first bikini barista shop in Arizona, we want to positively

inspire our local community by empowering others to do what they

want and love what they do. You [sic] Our brand is founded

upon providing exceptional customer service and delivering a quality

product. We achieve this by creating a personable experience on

every visit by making sure your drink is made just the way you like it.”

First, someone should have proofread their website content. Second, baristas wearing bikinis is a novelty, but there’s nothing about showing skin that empowers a woman. A woman is empowered when she loves herself. How many women do you know dislike their bodies because of the pressure to look a certain way? If Bikini wanted to empower women in addition to appealing to men, they should put a belly dancer behind the counter because they understand and teach the beauty of each woman’s femininity, no matter what size she is.

The customer service was the strongest quality of this coffee stop. I appreciated the barista’s warm personality because I really don’t see that in a lot of places anymore. However, due to my reasons stated above, I probably will not go back anytime soon. But then again, I’m a woman.

Copper Star Coffee Review

Life is an extreme sport. If you can find a place where you feel welcomed, comfortable, and can enjoy a nice cup of coffee, consider yourself fortunate.

Copper Star Coffee is not in my neck of the woods, but I’ve never minded making the trek out there to meet up with friends or just to bring my work down there so I can appreciate a change of scenery. Nestled among the vintage stores along 7th Ave in the Woodlea Historic District, Copper Star is a cozy coffee shop, which offers tea, lunch items, baked goods, and of course, coffee. Since being introduced to the coffee house by a friend of mine back in 2013, I’ve had the opportunity to try many of their specialties. I especially like to get their iced tea during the summer months, but I’m also a big fan of their coffee. Their latte is my personal favorite. There is no waving the bean (a phrase I’m apt to use when the coffee tastes weak) at this joint. Their pastries are also delicious, and recently I’ve noticed they’ve even included some gluten free selections.

While Copper Star is small, there are plenty of comfortable places to sit. I don’t feel crowded when I bring my laptop to do work. The ambiance to me feels like a combination of urban and chill. It’s nice that they play music, but that the music isn’t so loud that it’s distracting. And not to ruin anyone’s appetite, but the bathrooms are remarkably clean. The parking lot is small, and when I say small I mean 2 spots, so street parking is the norm here. However, I’ve never had any issues parking along the streets. Just be sure not to park too close to the stop signs.

One thing that I really want to note here is the customer service. Every time I’ve gone to this shop the baristas have been warm and friendly. Good customer service should be the norm, but unfortunately it is not, and this is one of the reasons why Copper Star is one of my “go to” for coffee houses.

Since this blog is about reviewing the coffee shop experience as well as the coffee, I want to insert a thought about the community aspect of Copper Star. In addition to exhibiting art from local artists, they also have live music. I’m a musician and a photographer and one of the issues that many of my artist friends talk about is the lack of community in the arts. There are a ton of talented artists, but there is very little support out there. I realize a coffee shop isn’t set up a for a full rock band, but I like that Copper Star offers a space for musicians to showcase their music. I’ve always viewed coffee shops as a place to exchange ideas, meet new people, network, or to just feel connected to the community.

Being a caffeine addict, it’s safe to say that I’ve been to a lot of coffee shops, and I already know how this place compares to most. I give this place 5/5 beans because their menu and customer service are equally strong. It’s definitely worth the jaunt. And, if you don’t feel like hanging out, they offer drive through services. You won’t be disappointed, and, when you’re down there, try checking out the vintage and antique stores.

Lux Coffee Review

Lux has to be the hottest hot spot I’ve ever reviewed. It doesn’t seem to matter what day or time I go to this place. They are always busy. It’s not hard to see why. Their menu is extensive and besides offering good coffee, they have breakfast, lunch, and dinner selections, baked goods, and even beer, wine, and cocktails. They are one of the few places that are open late at night. During the weekends, Lux keeps their doors open until 2AM.

Located on Central Avenue, between Camelback and Indian School, Lux is a hub for coffee dates, schoolwork, and business meetings. The inside of the café is made up of multiple smaller rooms, which all have a rustic European feel. The layout doesn’t necessarily flow and the stacks of supplies in the adjoining hallways sometimes feel chaotic, but the overall feel of the café is generally cozy. Plus, there’s plenty of outdoor seating.

During their peak hours, Lux can feel overwhelming. I don’t have a problem standing in line, but trying to maneuver through people and trying to figure out if people are in line or just waiting is not fun. However, once I do find a cozy table in the corner, it’s a great experience. I love bringing my work to Lux because I like the background noise, and I enjoy people watching. Also, everything Lux serves is high quality and delicious. I haven’t been disappointed once. In fact, my mother loves their crumb cake so much that she occasionally guilt trips me into going to Lux just for the cake.

The only other weakness about Lux is their parking. They do have a small parking lot and street parking, but, when it gets busy, even street parking gets limited.

Because I really like the coffee and atmosphere at Lux, I’ve learned to go when I know it’s not their busiest time. I’ve noticed that Meetup groups have met at Lux, which shows that it is an environment that encourages some sense of community. Lux attracts customers of all different ages and backgrounds. Most of my readers have probably already heard of and have been to Lux. For those of you who haven’t been to this coffeehouse, I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s one of those few places where you can go by yourself and not feel weird about it because you’re not the only one. There’s something for everyone at Lux.

Coffee Cartel Review

First, let me say that I know that there are multiple locations, which I will eventually visit. However, for this review, I will be focusing on Coffee Cartel in Old Town Scottsdale.

Whenever I’ve had to meet someone in Scottsdale, I’ve often chosen this place because it’s in a great location, it’s easy to find, and most people like the coffee here. Coffee Cartel takes its coffee seriously. In fact, their website shows you how to brew the perfect cup of joe with their own label brand. In addition to serving coffee, however, the shop serves tea, pastries, and beer.

Every time I go to this particular shop, I see a lot of people working on their laptops, some of them even wearing ear buds. Granted, I realize that working in a coffee shop is pretty common, but there are some places where I notice this more. The energy at Coffee Cartel is laid back, and it reminds me a little of the coffee shops I used to visit when I was a graduate student living in San Francisco. There are multiple seating areas. The only criticism I have about their set up is that their outdoor seating area is a long bench that’s connected to a bunch tables. Therefore, if you have one patron that is apt to bouncing his/her leg when they are anxious, everyone sitting on that bench is going to know it. Otherwise, the other areas are fairly comfortable. The room where I took the photo for this blog was behind the coffee bar, where there are a couple of tables and two comfy leather couches.

When a coffee place has their own brand of coffee you can pretty much assume that their coffee is going to be at least decent. Cartel’s coffee is actually more than decent. Their coffee is bold, flavorful, and smooth. I know smooth isn’t a typical adjective you hear when you talk about coffee, but sometimes very strong coffee can taste acidic and leave an after taste. Their iced teas range from really good to fair. Sometimes I’ve found their tea blends to be a little too exotic for me. The pastry selection is not as vast as I’ve seen at other places, but what they do sell is good quality and tastes delicious. I had the lemon bread, and it was just the right amount of sweetness. Even though I’m not a huge lemon fan, I still enjoyed the flavor because it wasn’t over the top.

The people who work there are pleasant and professional. I wouldn’t go so far to say that I feel like I’m walking into my neighborhood coffee shop, but I’ve never had a bad experience or felt mistreated.

The crowd that I’ve noticed at Cartel is pretty diverse. I’ve seen people of all ages and different backgrounds. I’ve seen people doing schoolwork, meeting with friends, or having business meetings. Much like Echo, Coffee Cartel is an appropriate place to go if you’re looking for a quiet space to work. However, it’s not so quiet that you would feel uncomfortable meeting up with a friend.

This particular shop is in a great location, which is one of its biggest advantages in my opinion. Cartel is nestled among a ton of shops and restaurants, not to mention it’s near Fashion Square Mall and all the nightclubs. For example, I could easily imagine people going to Cartel after walking along the Waterfront during Thursday Art Walk. There’s so much to do in that area that it really makes a great place to meet up with friends.

Coffee Cartel has a lot of great qualities. The two biggest are their location and setting. Their coffee is great, but I expect coffee shops to have good coffee and, if they don’t, I’m never going back even if it’s in a spectacular location. Coffee is really important to me. I can’t function without it. It’s my manna, lifeblood, brain food, you get the point. So if you’re in the area and feel like enjoying a cup of coffee and people watching, check out this place. Bean Count: 7/10.

Thanks A Latte Coffee Shop Review

I’m currently working on a book that involves me visiting antique stores throughout the valley. One afternoon, my friend and I went up to Camp Verde to rummage through their antique stores. Sweet Pea Antiques and Ruby Road Resale Road, by the way, offer some awesome finds. I found a couple of beautiful glassware pieces that you would have to spend a fortune on if you found them anywhere else.

Camp Verde has a chill feel, much like Flagstaff. In many ways, this town is a throwback to a time before social media and technology made so many of our connections virtual. I didn’t see so many people glued to their phones. People greeted me, when I walked into the stores. I didn’t feel invisible, which was nice. Plus, since it’s north of Phoenix, the temperature wasn’t quite as hot, which was also a bonus.

Before heading back to Phoenix, we decided to stop for coffee. Nothing like a dose of caffeine before you head into rush hour traffic, right? About a 10 minute drive from the antique stores, right on Main Street, was a small “mom and pop” coffee shop called Thanks A Latte. As soon as we walked in the door, the owner of the shop welcomed us. One of the first things I noticed was their vast menu selection. In addition, to offering coffee drinks like lattes, macchiatos, and cappuccinos, they also had a good selection of breakfast and lunch specials as well as non-coffee beverages like chai lattes, hot chocolate, and smoothies. As usual, I ordered a latte and a gluten free brownie and a coffee cake for my mother. Of all the things we ordered, the coffee cake was the best. I don’t typically eat coffee cake, but I did try a bite before I gave it to my mother (something I would only do with my mother). The latte was good, but I couldn’t eat the gluten free brownie. When I first went gluten free, I remember experiencing baked goods that had this peculiar taste. Not being someone who cooks or bakes anything more complicated than an omelet or rice, I can’t say for sure what that taste is. The adjective that comes to mind, however, is gritty. The owner mentioned that the recipe was something that he had created. Most likely it’s an ingredient or two that is the culprit, but since the coffee cake was really good, I think there is hope for the shop’s gluten free selections.

So far this coffee shop was the most physically comfortable. The seats were plush and it was well lit without it losing its coziness. What I found particularly interesting about this coffee shop was that I read on their website that they have special events like open mic, concerts, and workshops for musicians. However, the thing that really caught my attention is that every last Monday of the month you can enjoy a cup of coffee with a cop. Why do I think this is significant? No matter what field you’re in there are going to be good people and bad people. Yet, when we have bad experiences or we hear stories on the news, we begin to draw associations. It’s part of human nature. I think it’s great that this coffee shop gives people in the community a chance to connect with each other.

Of all the coffee shops, Thanks a Latte comes the closest to what I would like to see in a coffee shop. I realize that many people go to cafes to work or to meet up with their friends. However, I really like the idea of coffee shops providing a space for people to feel a sense of community and be exposed to things, which they wouldn’t otherwise get to experience.

I give this coffee shop a 5/5. Despite the fact that the gluten free brownie wasn’t so great, everything else was exceptional. Plus, I respect what this shop is providing it’s customers and community. I hope other coffee shops will follow their lead.

Annex Cocktail Lounge Review

In June, my friend and I drove up to Flagstaff to get a reprieve from the heat. It had been many years since I got to spend much time up north, and Flagstaff is a great city to check out if you haven’t done so already. It’s a college town, home to Northern Arizona University. I’ve always loved the vibe of this city because it’s a cool mixture of old and new architecture with a ton of greenery and nature to admire. Living in the desert for as long as I have, you really do appreciate the smell of pine trees. Lush greenery of any sort is a novelty in Phoenix.

One of the things that I did notice, however, was that there weren’t many coffee shops near the university. In fact, I was a little surprised at the number of stores that were closed or going out of business. The area is still worth checking out, but I was sad to see some of my favorite boutiques go out of business. Getting back to the coffee however, there was Starbucks, but I was looking for a coffee shop unique to the area. At one point, my friend and I decided to cross the train tracks. I was determined to find a coffee shop to review. One of the first places we stumbled upon was Annex. Technically, this place is a cocktail lounge and eatery, but it did have a full coffee bar and so I’m making an exception here.

The inside of the building was spacious, with clean lines, minimalist style furniture, and an industrial feel that still felt inviting. The layout was also intelligent. There was plenty of seating without feeling crowded. The only comment I could add about the seating is that if you sit at the stainless steel tables with the attached metal stools, your bum is probably going to hurt after a while. Mine did. Fortunately, there are other places to sit, so if you intend to hang out, choose something with some padding. My friend and I both ordered lattes and chocolate peanut butter cups. The lattes, which were served in oversized white saucers, were exceptional and the peanut butter cups were good as well. Just before I left, I bought my mother a raspberry pastry, which she said was very good even though she’s not the biggest fan of fruity pastries. The prices were reasonable and pretty typical of most coffee shops. The portion sizes were more than generous.

Every one who worked there was very kind and professional. My friend and I felt extremely relaxed spending time in the cafe. Since it was late in the afternoon, between lunch and dinner, there weren’t a lot of people, but I’m curious to know what it’s like during the afternoon and evening rush. Though I didn’t have the opportunity to check out their lunch/dinner menu, I think I can say with some confidence that they probably serve a good meal. Though there are more coffee shops in the area, Annex is a good place to visit. I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to check out this part of Downtown Flagstaff (also referred to as the Railroad District) that’s on the other side of the train tracks. I’ve always either went hiking or hung out near the university. In addition to finding Annex, however, I saw that this was the place where people hang out. There were coffee shops, boutiques, and thrift stores. The feel of this area was completely laid back, and in some ways reminded me of Tempe, with its combination of industrial and bungalow style construction.

I love Flagstaff because there is so much to do there and the weather is considerably nicer than in Phoenix. I highly recommend Annex as a place to stop for coffee, drinks, or food. It was so good, that if I weren’t running a blog about coffee shops, I would return to this café in a heart beat. However, considering all the cool places to try, I will hopefully return with another review of a cool coffee shop from Flagstaff. Cheers, Annex. You deserve it. Bean count: 8/10

Echo Coffee Shop Review
Echo Coffee Shop Review

My first impression of Echo Coffee Shop was a library, except instead of librarians you had skilled baristas and a vast array of coffee selections. I walked into the shop and the first thing I noticed were the rows of laptops partially covering pensive expressions. The room was so heavily pregnant with everyone’s thoughts that I felt compelled to whisper my order to the barista: Café Americano with a peanut butter cookie. The cookie was delicious and the coffee was strong, but I tasted a slight bitterness, which is usually associated with burned coffee beans. Even though there were places to sit, I was cramped at my little table by the window. After 30 minutes of drinking my coffee and reading a copy of Java, I left to go home.

I can’t say there’s anything particularly wrong with Echo. The coffee is better than most places and the selection of pastries is more than decent and they even offer some gluten free options. The baristas are pleasant and there are plenty of tables and a few sofas for people to sit and work. The way it’s decorated reminds me of a Starbucks. It’s clean, with light colored walls, and full of natural light from the large windows. However, my experiences at Echo have always left me feeling emotionally sterilized. The energy of the space colors how I feel about this particular coffee shop. I’ve been to Echo about a half dozen times and the energy is always the same. There’s never much conversation going on and in fact, when I met one of my friends for coffee, she and I both felt uncomfortable talking because it was so quiet that we felt like we would get into trouble if our voices were above a whisper.

My visit to Echo made me think more about how the definitions of community and connection have changed. Social media and smart phones have made the virtual seem more real than the physical world. It’s more natural to be connected to your lap top computer than it is the people sitting next to you. If the power grid were to ever go out, humanity would have to relearn what it means to be part of a community. And yet, I would argue that our lack of physical community is creating an epidemic of detachment, self-absorption, and bullying. Empathy is not created over the Internet.

It’s challenging pinpointing why the energy feels the way it does at a place. However, sometimes places are just not good matches for people, and for me, I prefer places with more hustle and bustle. I want to feel a part of something, even if it’s just drinking coffee and reading a book. If I want quiet, I’ll go to a proper library. Due to Echo Coffee Shop’s menu, coffee, and hospitality, I give them 8 out of 10 beans.