Arizona Coffee

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  1. Great List! Amen to all of them.

  2. I hope Kevin doesn’t expect blind support simply because a shop is local.

    I have to agree with his point: once you find a good shop, brag brag brag.

    Local shops have several advantages over chains – they can adjust to local demands, buy a better or more suitable equipment piece (non super autos, anyone?), and spend money on other local companies.

    But they’d better offer a bit more than just being local.

  3. Michael,

    Um. I never said someone should support a shop simply because it is local.

    People should support a coffeehouse because they like it (which ought to obviously imply they have something of value to offer) and if it is local then all the better. In fact, the second to the last point I made in my blog post was all about people finding a shop that they like and really getting to know the owners who run it. Do that first, then brag.

    However, it should be said that local small businesses are the heart and soul of this country–and that’s no less true for the coffee business as it is for virtually any industry. When you support local small businesses, you support your community and you help yourself and others prosper.

    In contrast, when you support multinational or public corporations you get just about what you pay for and little else if that. The money isn’t normally pumped back into the local economy in too many other ways besides minimal wages for the employees that work there. Profit goes into the pockets of stockholders, senior executives, and pension funds. Suppliers, if they are used locally at all, are often unnecessarily pressured to lower prices when a big corporation comes to town resulting in further lower margins that pass on less and less to the community in terms of the profit of businesses supplying the big chains. Meanwhile, the local business owner still gets the non-bulk pricing from the same suppliers and less attention because suppliers pay attention to their more valuable customers.

    Oh, it is true that some multinational corporations inject some help into the local economy and community but when you put it into perspective and realize on a percentage basis that it really doesn’t amount to much more than a token effort compared to what the could do if they really wanted to–who wants to support that?

    And, I have to stick up for my fellow coffeehouse owners here–unlike the corporate folks that set up new shops here and there and go home at 5pm every afternoon to another life–these owners have put their entire lives into their shops and have usually sacrificed incredibly even before the doors open. And, it’s never a nine to five job. They are constantly working to provide the best for their customers in a market that isn’t easy to survive in let alone thrive like the bigger businesses in the industry.

    As far as I’m concerned, these local independent coffeehouse owners are the heroes of specialty coffee. Sure, you can run through a five car deep drive-thru at Starbucks and get a taste of something that might resemble specialty coffee on its best day in just about the same way you can go to McDonald’s for a Big Mac, but the real stuff is to be had in the independent coffeehouses here in Phoenix and elsewhere.

  4. I say support them just because they are local, and for all o the reasons that Kevin cites. If they aren’t great, encourage them to compete with the corporate wage slaves in paper hats who don’t have to care about survival vs quality issues. IF there is a local coffee shop that doesn’t provide a product as good as the chains, they’re destined for failure anyways. I always shop local first, and I let them know if their service or quality doesn’t measure up to the chains. Only after I get, “So go shop at the giant chains, then!” will I abandon a local shop owner and try something else.

  5. RJD

    I visited this place yesterday afternoon. Not impressed. My opinion walking into this shop was that they do not ‘get coffee’. Perhaps they didn’t have the right help on staff, but I ended up walking out without buying anything. I am even less impressed by the list “Ways to Help the Independent Coffeehouse”. The writer should spend his time honing his craft or at the very least finding the right talent and training them properly.

  6. Hmm…I’m not sure if “this place” that ‘RJD’ refers to is our shop or not. If so, I’m happy to admit that we can always improve what we’re doing no matter how rock solid our service and coffee offerings might be.

    I’d be interested to read more about how ‘RJD’ came to the conclusion that we “do not ‘get coffee'” and he or she is welcome to send me an email in that regard to kj @ coffeeconversations . com especially if it was our coffeehouse that is being talked about. I would love to hear from you as to how we could improve.

    I’m disappointed though to hear such strident criticism only to learn that the dissatisfied party didn’t even grant us the courtesy to actually try our coffee or anything else in the shop but still felt strong enough to leave this sort of comment. So, what, you didn’t like the color of the paint on our walls or the artwork? Trying our coffee might well have changed your mind about things!

    If you decide to go back, ask for Shannon. Tell her what you thought and why when you came the first time and see what she has to say. If after talking to her you think we still don’t ‘get coffee’, we’re probably not the coffeehouse for you.

    I’ll let the readers decide whether or not my tips for supporting coffeehouses are valuable or not and all are welcome to monitor my blog to see if we know anything about coffee or not.

    I’d just suggest to our anonymous critic, though, to take the time to come back to the shop and get to know us. First impressions aren’t always the best and as always nobody’s perfect. You might be surprised to learn that we’re really into coffee and we only roast the best for the best, our customers.

  7. Austin

    @kevin don’t take the criticisms too hard. Oddly enough coffee is cutthroat enough that people come onto the site regularly to try to bash a shop so that other people will support their own. Those people generally give very strong negative reviews with little or no detail as to what was wrong, but just that it isn’t worth even trying because, like they said, you don’t “get coffee.”

    I gather that these are comments from new or failing shops that are trying to make the quick and easy buck off of the coffee craze.

    We had it happen to us a couple of years ago when we first started our shop.

  8. Thanks, Austin, I appreciate it.

    I wonder if a good policy for the blog might be that if you’re going to level complaints like this against coffeehouses or roasters – you make your contact information available so we can follow up with you and do everything possible to remedy the situation. If the negative comments represent a valid complaint, I don’t see why that would be a problem for anyone. What do you think, Chris?

  9. Thank you to both Austin and Kevin for the thoughtful responses.

    I’ll consider your idea Kevin about negative comments. It’s a tricky one and while I often will delete negative comments I avoid doing so whenever a comment sounds legitimate.

    Often times what happens is loyal customers will jump to the defense of the coffee shop in question.

    Then it’s tricky because if you remove the offending comment, you also have to remove a bunch of wonderful comments.

    I’ve written about this before here:

    And here:

    In the case of the comment left on Thursday in this post by RJD. I have gone ahead and emailed him asking for a comment.

    When a negative comment comes in purely anonymous without even an email address visible on the admin side, I’ll often delete it without comment.

    However, in this case I am able to send an email to RJD asking for additional information.

  10. RJD

    Hi Michael T: I completely agree with your post.

    Hi Austin: I do not own a coffee shop, own stock in Starbucks, nor do I support any other establishment. I do not even work in the industry. Although, I did while I was in college.

    Hi Chris: Thanks for the way you handled this. Much appreciated.

    Hi Kevin: I will gladly give your establishment in Grayhawk Plaza another chance. This is what happened:

    I walked into your shop on Thursday afternoon. I was immediately asked by somebody sitting playing a game with other folks what I wanted. I had barely walked through the door. I couldn’t tell if the person was an employee or customer. I immediately felt uncomfortable. What I wanted on this hot day was an Iced Mocha (2 properly pulled shots of espresso, quality chocolate, and milk over ice). The other person who was also sitting with the group got up and walked behind the bar. I explained to her what I wanted and she went on to tell me that they did not make it that way, but they used some sort of ‘packaged concentrate’ (my words not hers.. I do not recall exactly how she phrased it.). I kindly said, ‘No thank you’ and left.

    I am certain people reading this forum ‘get coffee’, including Kevin. I guess what frustrated me was that Kevin posted this checklist of how to support a local coffee shop, so I walked in with high expectations only to walk out disappointed. Believe me, I am all for the small business and it’s owners. I am one. I have worked for several in the past. I had left the cool comfort of my office in search of a new local coffee shop I could frequent on a daily basis. I was really excited to find Areopagus Coffee on’s site as it is only about 3 miles from where I work 56st & 101. I was disappointed that, in my opinion, it lacked passion and what I was looking for in a local shop. In essence, I was looking for a ‘LUX’ experience in north Phoenix/Scottsdale. A barrista that is passionate about coffee and knows how to make a great drink. I believe that is what sets most great local coffee shops apart from the rest. I think Starbuck’s used to be great until they grew out of control and began hiring people who could care less about coffee, which could be one reason they switched to fully automatic machines.

  11. Austin

    Totally valid. I would have likely done the same thing. I am always surprised when an iced mocha is done in a way that doesn’t taste very good. (ie hot coffee over ice, then milk) It is hard to make blended coffee without the packets but mochas don’t really need them. In fact they cost a lot more to use the packeted stuff.

    Thanks for the update RJD. And Kevin, Now you have some good feedback.

  12. RJD,

    Thanks for the feedback. I’ll be directly speaking to our employees about this incident and see if I can find out more about what happened. For what it’s worth, we don’t use “packaged concentrate” with anything. That is very strange…it doesn’t make sense that anyone would say that.

    In the meantime, I really would like to talk to you further about this offline – if you could do me a favor and shoot me an email, I’d appreciate it.

  13. This morning, I spoke with my wife about RJD’s visit and showed her RJD’s comments above. Thankfully, she was the one that tried to assist RJD and she remembers RJD and what happened. My wife runs the shop and has some sixteen years experience in roasting coffee. She wasn’t just an employee or a customer but a co-owner of our company. We’ve been commercially roasting the finest in fresh-roasted coffee in Phoenix now for about seven years. RJD couldn’t have talked to a more informed person about coffee.

    Her recollection of the matter is far different than what we’ve been presented with above. Because of the high caffeine content in toddy-based drinks, my wife was trying to explain to RJD how the drink he ordered is normally made at our shop. We’ve found that some people are sensitive to caffeine and you can’t just assume that someone will have no problems with higher caffeine content. So, when we recognize someone who’s never been to our shop before, we take a bit of extra time to explain things like this. But, in the middle of her talking to him, he abruptly ended the conversation with a “no thank you”. My wife responded with, “Are you sure? We can make your drink however you want.”

    We do everything possible to service our customers the way they would like to be treated. All of our employees have been with us for over a year and a half and we don’t cycle through employees or just hire anyone. They’re all very familiar with how to make each drink and we strive to make your drink the way you want it made even if it differs significantly from the way we normally do it. When you become a regular customer, our employees will not only know you by name they’ll also likely already know what you want to order and make it the way you like it. When RJD arrived, one employee was actually across the parking lot taking orders from businesses in the plaza. We do this because it helps save our customers within the shopping center time and they don’t have to go out in the heat to get to us.

    My wife, Shannon, was not playing a game but instead was having a meeting with a vendor. She interrupted her meeting to get up and help RJD as soon as she saw him come into the shop.

    We don’t use “prepackaged concentrate” in our coffee or in any of our drinks – including our blended drinks. Everything is made to order with real fresh-roasted coffee. There is no high fructose corn syrup in anything we make – all of it is natural cane sugar or splenda based and we don’t use powders or other prepackaged drink blends in anything.

    What my wife was trying to explain to RJD is that we use toddy coffee in our cold drinks and it is a concentrated form of coffee brewed fresh daily in our shop. She didn’t use the words “prepackaged concentrate” – she said “super-concentrated”. For anyone actually familiar with coffee (or for those who “get coffee”), toddy is a favorite of many in the coffee industry because the brewing process (which takes hours by the way) provides more exposure to caffeine and less acidity in general. It also produces the coffee in a more concentrated form making it ideal for things like cold drinks. In fact, there is more than one coffeehouse vendor out there that focuses exclusively on toddy-based drinks so this is not out of the ordinary for anyone who knows what they’re doing with coffee. Another reason we use toddy in cold drinks is that it avoids the watered-down espresso that can happen from pouring hot shots over ice – it in fact preserves more coffee flavor in the drink than what you will likely find in a mocha or other drink that was prepared with espresso shots. Using fresh-brewed toddy allows us to pour cold coffee over ice and you get more coffee, more caffeine, more flavor, a colder drink, and less water. Now, not everyone likes it that way and we do have a couple of customers that want their traditional espresso shots over ice which we happily do for them.

    And, had RJD taken the time to allow my wife to finish speaking, she would have been happy to make it exactly that way for him. RJD, I invite you to come back, try our coffee, but please make a point to introduce yourself to Shannon when you do (her schedule will have here there next week starting on Wednesday).

  14. Two minor edits:

    “prepackaged” in the next to last paragraph above should read “packaged”. And the last part in parentheses in the last sentence above should read:

    “her schedule will have HER there next week starting on Wednesday”. An extra “e” escaped from my keyboard on that one.

  15. RJD

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to reply. I will definitely come back and show the same patience and respect you have shown me. It appears my initial observation was way off the mark. I will follow up after my visit.

  16. Kudos to both of you for the polite response! Glad to hear RJD is planning to visit again.

  17. thom noss

    For Kevin Johnson or…
    Wha’ hoppen to Areopagus coffee? Used to be sold at AJ’s and now seems to have disappeared from there and everywhere else? I miss my Sumatra!