Our friends at Cartel Coffee Lab are merging with Avenue Coffee in Tucson to form Cartel Coffee Lab, Campbell Avenue. They just announced the merger last night on Facebook and on their blog.

The state of Arizona has very little in regards to quality specialty coffee, and even the direction and incentive to strive for those standards. We saw Cartel Coffee Lab as one of the only voices in the state that echoed those standards that we, as the coffee shop Avenue Coffee, grew into over the past year.

I see statements like this, and while true to a large degree (Arizona is a desert), it comes off sounding like nobody in AZ has passion. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention. There are a growing number of people starting and running coffee shops in Arizona that do have passion for the bean, and keep high standards. I could rattle off a list of shops right now that I think deserve praise.

So, anyways kudos to the crew at Cartel! Oh, and the Tempe location has expanded hours! Beginning August 10, 2010 hours are 7 am – 11 pm, daily. Which sounds fantastic because often after work I’ll want to go somewhere, but it’s too late in the day.

Update: Brian from Cartel Coffee Lab wrote in to let me know about the following:

“[Avenue Coffee] will continue with business as usual until a switch over date, even when the sign reads “Cartel” they will be accepting “Avenue” punch cards. They will have a program where instead of 10 punches = free drink, that the customer can redeem the punch card early for a free drink. They will be phasing out the large batch brewing and moving over to cup-by-cup brew via the Hario V60 with NO free refills, but again, this will all be done in due time.

There is going to be an anniversary party plus unveiling of Avenue as Cartel Coffee Lab – Campbell Avenue on August 9, 2010 (8/9/10).”

Arizona Coffee

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  1. Ya, Chris I think the intention here is to say exactly what it said :). “Cartel Coffee Lab as :one of the only:”, and it compared it to our standards, maybe not someone else’s. There are many shops in Arizona with passion, but they are few and far between. And ones opinion of “passion”/”quality” could be VERY different. Thanks for the mention!

  2. Here’s the neighborhood lineup for Cartel Coffee Lab:
    Tempe – Cartel Ash Avenue
    Downtown PHX – Cartel 1st Street
    Tucson – Cartel Campbell Avenue

    We are using neighborhood descriptors largely to tie back to that direct neighborhood, just as when we source coffee, we tie it directly to not only the country or region – but the farm. It’s about community, it’s about coffee.

  3. Hi Mark and Brian,

    Thanks for the follow up, and the extra info about what the neighborhoods are called.

  4. PR or reality? and if reality them Who’s reality. I commend people with passion and forward thinking but even Doug Sell (intelligentzia)would not make statements like this one. One thing for sure; some people believe that the louder you scream the most people will turn around and notice you, some other people wait to create a reputation so they do not have to scream. Sometimes being humble will yield a greater return.

  5. One other clarification as we’ve had some awesome regulars a little confused by this post, Avenue is taking on the Cartel Coffee Lab name. Their sign will soon read, Cartel Coffee Lab. Campbell Avenue is the location in Tucson, not a part of the company name.

    Ron – appreciate your comment. I don’t believe Cartel has ever screamed, quite the opposite, they have cup-by-cup won customers over to specialty coffee. PR would be posting our prices for green coffee (which are higher than what many pay per pound) and running a campaign about how we have the highest quality coffee. We’re not about to do that (although I think it’s a great idea), instead we will continue to pay special attention (the attention that it deserves) to each cup and continue winning people over as they notice the difference in quality for themselves.

    I’ve heard the term, “a rising tide lifts all boats” be used to describe the recent uprising of cafes in Phoenix. I disagree with this statement in terms of quality. Adding more cafes to the valley doesn’t ensure quality NOR does using a local roaster. I commend Matt Poole for scoping our what he believes to be the best roaster, Giant Coffee of San Francisco. Yes, Matt pissed a lot of “local only” coffee people off….yes, he even turned down Cartel Coffee Lab as his roaster. For this Matt, you’re a rockstar. You saw where quality should be and decided to bring the best of the best in. Way to go Matt!

  6. Add to my earlier comment: Matt uses FOUR BARREL from San Francisco.

  7. Psyd

    Brian said:
    “the term, “a rising tide lifts all boats” be used to describe the recent uprising of cafes in Phoenix. Adding more cafes to the valley doesn’t ensure quality”.

    That phrase would be used to indicate that an increase in quality in any cafe will improve the quality of coffee available in Phoenix, not the number of cafes. To paraphrase, “Raising the bar at my cafe will make ll the other cafes work harder to keep up, thus improving all the coffee in Phoenix.”
    The rising tide analogy means that anyone improving the situation individually will influence the situation in general.
    But, analogy aside, increasing the number of coffee shops in Phoenix only improves the quality of Phoenix coffee if they are already better than the average shop. And since there is a ton of mediocre coffee, even more horrible coffee, and an absolute avalanche of really terrible coffee, that shouldn’t be too hard.
    And yet, it’s amazing at how many new espresso offerings will fall short of that meager goal.
    (BTW, you could substitute ‘Tucson’ for Phoenix’ and the equation would be pretty much the same…)

  8. Psyd, well said and agree 100% on the Phoenix, Tucson comparisons. We have a LOT of work to do!

  9. The analogy of the rising tide makes a lot of sense. My idea is that the coffee industry in Arizona as a whole needs to change and it is changing. This will be a noble cause as we will be improving our businesses and helping others respect the effort that many coffee people are making. As we need to raise the bar for all of the coffee industry we also need to be leaders so we can inspire others (this is my intention). That is why I said that being humble will produce better results. I see you guys doing great things and producing results, but the initial comment I read, I though it was arrogant and typical of a press release. Just my opinion.

  10. I think one of my biggest problems with the humble pie (sounds so good doesnt it), is that 90% of our industry can’t move forward and innovate past the likes of $bux because we are doing busy being nice to eachother. Instead we just pat each other on the back and say “Keep fighting the good fight”. In reality, coffee shops are failing left and right..because they fail to see the big picture. Sure, they “thought” they were making good coffee..but were they? Was it any different than the other shops down the street that are BARELY making rent? I guess its ok to stay positive..but I think a critical eye in our state, in this industry is of the utmost importance. We need more realism than than that of the past, if we want to be anything more than a blip of a coffee culture.

    Cartel matched Avenue’s goals and aspirations. We are not where we want to be in terms of quality..yet. We were heading to the same place, why not go together? Our expectations at Avenue of how coffee should be approached from seed to cup are OUR expectations, and are also subject to our opinions.

    Don’t mistake arrogance for confidence.

  11. Ok, I’ll bite. Since Mark said Cartel’s standards are different… what are Cartel’s standards? How do you perceive other “great” shops falling short? You’ve made some bold claims, maybe be specific?

  12. I’ve made this statement before, and I’ll make it again now, because I think it fits into some of the way Mark has phrased his decision to merge with Cartel. My goal for Echo Coffee is quite simply stated, “to be the best coffee shop in Arizona”.

    Many people may read that statement and think I am arrogant or cocky or that I am slighting other established quality shops. However, I would hope that what people read is that I want to be better today than I was yesterday, and again better tomorrow than I was today. Because if you aren’t getting better, you are getting worse. If you don’t have a goal to be the best, your goal is to be what? Second best? Tenth best? Not the worst? For me, all of those goals are failure. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jason at Cartel has exactly the same goal. Honestly, I hope he does.

    Transparency is a key to my goal. Consistency is a key to my goal. Quality is a key to my goal. Relationships are a key to my goal.

    So far, I fail to reach my goal in so many ways every single day. But failure makes me better, because I learn from failure.

    One area I fail the best at, is with regard to relationships with my fellow shop owners. I read some of Mark’s comments as a painful reminder of my failure to achieve that goal. I read Ron’s comments as a welcome reminder that there are people that seek to improve relationships with fellow shop owners (and it isn’t by patting each other on the back…as I agree that is self-serving futility). I know from speaking in person with Brian that part of his goals are indeed to improve relationships with other shop owners.

    I strongly believe the potential is well within our grasp to elevate the standard for coffee in Arizona by a HUGE margin in a very short time. And I’m not talking about just 1 or 2 shops getting better. Or another shop opening here and there with a goal for quality. I’m talking about 100 independent shops almost overnight serving a product that is vastly superior to what they served the day before. It is possible to do just that, and each and every shop owner will be the better for it, even those that are already focusing on quality. Once the consumer realizes that the best coffee they can get comes from an independent shop, the corporate shops will be the ones wondering how to make their rent.

  13. Who is Mark? Owner, Roaster, Barista?

    Congrats Cartel/Jason…….!!!

  14. Stop ruffling Ron’s feathers!!

  15. Psyd

    I dunno if the rumours are true, but if Doug keep opening stores at that rate, how long before Intelli is racing Starbucks to mediocrity?

  16. Hey Chris, it was a joke I played on Tom (formerly from press). I did hear from a reputable source that SBX is starting to research in store roasting. They also source coffee directly from farms worldwide. The stakes are getting higher, i tell you.

  17. @Tom – you’re hilarious!
    @Psyd – fortunately Intelli has an amazing training program that takes months to go through on their retail side. Wish I could say the same for their wholesale customers (Bookman’s Mesa for example).
    @Ron – I heard the same information, yet find it highly unlikely Sbux will be able to roast even regionally (say roast in Phoenix for all their AZ locations). And, it doesn’t matter if you’re roasting in house if you’re still as far into second crack as Sbux does.

  18. @Steve – Mark is an owner of Avenue Coffee, and now partial owner at Cartel.

  19. About strbucks roasting. I am sure they will have technology that allows them to stop before second crack. I think they already do. Just in case they decide to change profiles I am sure that will be a massive campaign to re-educate consumers. Perhaps then we will unite and compete with them. Of course still. In a “not so pad in the back” way.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  20. A reminder to anyone reading these comments thinking the independents are competing with Starbucks – we AREN’T. They aren’t our competition, unless you want them to be and you’re coffee is of the same grade as theirs. Sbux is NOT specialty coffee, they lost the requirements to be deemed specialty a year or so ago.

    @Stephen – they are going to continue to open these “stealth” shops, but NOW with the Sbux name and not stealth names. Even still, they don’t have the capital to revamp even half of their current locations into something like this.

    @Ron – I don’t think they’ll change ALL of their profiles, because the grade of bean they buy. Roasting dark is more consistent.

    If you’re a specialty coffee shop owner – your competition is NOT starbucks. Yes, Sbux is going to continue to do things that look like their promoting high quality (brewing cup-by-cup on pour-overs after 1pm). Have you ever watched them brew on these devices? The lack of care and need for speed will keep them in the Second Wave and in the premium rather than specialty coffee industry.

  21. Rocca

    I apprecaite the great quality coffee and the passion that some coffee shops/roasters have to be their best. But just because coffee shop A and coffee shop B do things differently, does that mean that one has higher standards than the other? And by who’s standards are these measured by? If I go to Italy (my friend has) and order a cappuccino and it comes with a thick luxurious silky foam on top, and I go to coffee shop B and my cappuccino arrives with latte art on top, I am missing the luxurious experience that I crave in a cappuccino. Coffee shop B says that is how it is supposed to be made. They may have the best espresso in town, but I walk away only slightly satisfied. Strive to be the best – yes and amen – but there is an element of personal taste here as well.

  22. Psyd

    All true. But, if instead, coffee shop A uses coffee that is roasted every day and rested properly to be at it’s height for every day’s espresso, and coffee shop B just gets weekly deliveries and pulls whatever their roaster sends them; coffee shop A goes to the countries of origin and talks to the farmers about to how the beans are to be grown, harvested, cleaned and treated, stored and shipped, and coffee shop B gets whatever the roaster got at a huge brokerage house that was on sale or cheap; coffee shop A serves in porcelain and coffee shop B serves only in paper, is your premise still valid?
    If my tastes run towards coffee shop B’s habits, well, then maybe.

  23. Cathy

    I got a coupon for Coffee Cartel from Groupon. I was very excited, sounded like my kind of place. Finally made it down to Tempe in early August, got 2 cappuccinos, bag of Columbian beans and a bag of espresso blend beans. Cappuccinos were pretty good, love the latte art, liked the vibe of the place (although I’m too old to fit in the target demographic), but when I got home to grind and taste the beans, they were awful!!! Not nearly roasted enough, no oil on the beans. Ok, Columbian isn’t my favorite, so how about the espresso beans, surely they’ll be better — still underroasted, barely a hint of oil, and they, too, tasted old. I was so disappointed!!

    I really do love the name, the idea, the location is great for college kids, like the funky interior; but I really hope I somehow managed to get 2 bad bags o’ beans. Guess I’m not sad I live so far north because I won’t be coming back, but good luck to ya!

  24. Psyd

    Cathy, send me the beans. I’ll go to the grocery store and get the equivalent in dark-roasted Millstone oily-beans and send it back return mail. I think that there is a special on French-roasts.

  25. Pietro

    Mark has spoken as Holier Than Though since day one:
    ““But we felt like the coffee culture was not what we were used to. We have a little bit of a different take on things. We are going to up the game around here.”

    Mark Harrell, 23, said Avenue Coffee’s baristas will be more traditional in the sense that they will follow strict guidelines on how they brew coffee.

    Espresso shots will be pulled within seconds of each other, and milk will be steamed to the exact same temperature every time.

  26. Psyd

    And, with just a few minor exceptions (and mostly he joined forces with those people as he found them), Southern Arizona was a coffee wasteland. There were decent shops, but that’s all that could be said about them. Decent. Mark and Jenny wanted more.
    And gods love ’em fer that!
    I was hoping that once I got myself to the Arizona Desert, I’d outrun the blue crabs. Seems that they’re everywhere.
    One could do no better than to set their sights on showing that Avenue, or Cartel, or any of the top third wave shops in this state aren’t the pinnacle of espresso in this state.
    ‘Better than Starbucks’ isn’t an enthusiastic goal. A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heavenly coffee shop for?

  27. Pietro…I am sure you meant “Holier than thou”.

    I would love to take credit for the writing of the blog post announcing the merger, or the quotation used in the article you re-quoted before we opened (almost that entire article in the Daily Star was a misquote) There are many more qualified experts in the field of coffee than I.

    There are also many more that came before me and many more that will come after..that absolutely butcher our profession.

    I have much to learn about this industry and this product we serve. Unfortunately, its easier to find people in Arizona that seem to think this is as good as coffee will ever get.

    (P.S.: It gets much better.)

  28. Psyd..I appreciate the kind words. We won’t let this state go without a fight…there is …well “more to come.”

  29. Wait, so you (Mark) didn’t write that blog post? Then who did?

  30. Chris.. It doesn’t matter.. Everything said I agree with.