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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Cartel Coffee Lab

    Jesus Barrera

    Pima Community College nursing majors Ian Macomber, left, and Jenny Nevins, right, study at Cartel Coffee Lab on Monday. Nevins and Macomber said they enjoy the quiet atmosphere of the coffee shop and its proximity to their houses.

    The barista on a recent weekday morning at Cartel Coffee Lab’s downtown Tucson location was kind of … nerdy looking. With his polo shirt and sneakers, he hardly fit the paradigm of tatted-up servers in cuffed khakis and asymmetrical haircuts.

    That’s how hipster Cartel is — it doesn’t feel any need to prove itself. It’s just unassuming enough to convince you that its hipness is an accident.

    The name suits the place. Cartel isn’t just a coffee shop where the average Joe goes for a cup of joe. It’s a coffee lab, for people who really like coffee and know the difference between a Colombian bean and an Ethiopian one and whether they’re best prepared with a Hario V60 or a Chemex.

    If you’re not one of those people, just order an espresso.

    It comes out with a short glass of sparkling water and is, in a word, delicious — much too citrusy to be diluted with sugar or a touch of milk, but much too tastey to require additions in the first place.

    And besides, Cartel customers don’t drop that much money on coffee with the intention of drowning it in other flavors.

    Cartel’s cheapest cup of black coffee will put you out $2.50, and its fancier varieties can exceed $6. The coffee menu shifts with the seasons, and it has a decent rotating selection of teas and beers. Still, Cartel is a coffee paradise, and the other options are just the olive on the toothpick.

    The finickiness with which Cartel approaches its beverages extends to the atmosphere too, which makes a better public workspace than a place for catching up with old friends. The interior is open and industrial but cozy, and the music is muted.

    The Campbell Avenue location is generally more crowded, especially with the UA student crowd, while the Broadway Boulevard location services the so-called young professionals and those passing time before heading out to dinner downtown.

    But whatever the age and situation of a given hipster, both of Tucson’s Cartels are a pretty great place to stop in, loosen the bow tie and enjoy Proust over a good pour-over. 

    If five hipsters walk into a coffee shop, are they really hipsters? After all, the fifth hipster never wants to be where the other four already are.

    Cartel is only a four-hipster kind of place, but don’t let that fool you. It’s almost as hip as they come.


    Jacquelyn Oesterblad is opinions editor. Follow her on Twitter.

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