For most people like myself, a nice steaming hot cup of coffee in the morning is the best way to start the day off right. However, in Southern Arizona, where temps climb past 100 on a daily basis for months on end, a hot cup of coffee may not seem as enticing. Not surprisingly, cold brew and iced coffee are really popular here. Nevertheless, I prefer my coffee hot no matter the weather, and a delicious Americano is my preferred treat after a long work week. On weekends, I love to treat myself to a coffee out, simply to enjoy an expertly brewed drink in a nice setting away from the house.
For most of the year in Tucson, avid outdoor enthusiasts need to get up pretty early before the intense afternoon heat and sunshine make any type of outdoor activity completely unbearable. A strong cup of coffee prior to hitting the trails is the perfect wake me up. While the Tucson area has its’ fair share of Starbucks, there are a number of local shops throughout town that I frequent regularly due to their delicious coffee offerings, fantastic service, and attractive ambiance. Here are my 5 favorite coffee shops in the Tucson region.
Presta Coffee Roasters
Presta Coffee would be my top choice for new Tucson visitors. Presta is a small local micro roaster that is anything but the common chain. The house coffee is always smooth and delicious and the Americanos are by far the most tasty in town. Their pour over and cold brew are also top notch. The beans are roasted light to medium and the resulting taste is fresh with no bitter or burnt aftertaste. Note: as of late, I believe they switched the beans and their coffee continues to get sweeter and sweeter. If you do not like overly sweet coffee, opt for the Americano instead of the drip.
I love their pretty blue mugs and the fact that they automatically serve your coffee properly in a mug instead of giving you a paper cup. Non coffee drinkers can relax with a cup of delicious loose leaf tea – try the Prickly Pear! The decor inside is pretty minimalist, yet attractive & clean, however, I recommend taking a seat in the courtyard area and enjoying one of the few spaces with lovely trees in Tucson!
In addition to enjoying one of the best cups of Joe in the area, you can also feast on the best breakfast tacos in the area (at Seis Kitchen). This place gets extremely busy on the weekends (particularly with cyclists and hikers), however, there is tons of seating so you can usually always find a spot. Be prepared to wait in line for your tacos – don’t worry it’s worth the inconvenience!
What to do nearby: If you are a fitness enthusiast, the hike up Tumanoc Hill is just minutes away. This is one of the few places where you can enjoy your morning coffee and not have to drive an additional half hour or more to hit the trail! In a city with endless stop lights, this is a real bonus!
Location: 100 South Avenida del Convento Tucson, AZ 85745
Hours: 7am-10pm (8pm on Sunday & Monday)
Exo Roast is another great independent gourmet coffeehouse in Tucson. Each batch of beans at Exo is craft roasted in-house in small batches in a gas-fired Probat roaster. The resulting quality of coffee is definitely the best-of-the-best Tucson has to offer. The coffee is always rich and delicious without any sort of burnt after taste.
I love the Americano here, which has a smooth, sweet like taste, absent of any bitter notes. The difference here really is the quality of the beans, which are never over roasted. The over roasting of beans at most common chains leads to an overpowering burnt, bitter flavor which overpowers the true taste of the beans. Fortunately, this is not the case at Exo or any others mentioned on this list. Exo’s daily drip selection is is a light roast, so if you love your coffee with a hint of sweetness, this is the place for you.
If you are a coffee connoisseur, you will definitely want to try the pour over here. There are 3 different pour over options using 3 different single origin beans – offered at 3 different price points daily. Coffee is always fresh as any ground coffee not brewed within 2 minutes is thrown into the trash.
The mocha made using homemade chocolate is so rich and smooth that it tastes more like a hot chocolate than an espresso drink, and thus, is a great option for those who do not like the taste of coffee. However, as I still prefer the rich, bold taste of regular black coffee, the Americano is my go to drink here. Non coffee drinkers might want to try out a pot of tea from Seven Cups, a delicious local Tucson tea house which is rated amongst the best in the county. The Eight Treasures, featuring 8 healing Chinese herbs, tea is the perfect relaxing treat.
Exo is located in an attractive old warehouse space on 6th Avenue in the downtown region, complete with exposed brick walls and the original wood plank floors. The building, called the Market Inn, was once used as a toy factory in the 19th century. The space is quiet and charming. Whether working, meeting up with friends, or in town for a casual business meeting, Exo Roast is a great choice. Exo should also please anyone seeking more of a hipster like downtown NYC or San Francisco style ambiance. Overall, it’s a nice trendy, yet still relaxed place to enjoy a casual coffee date.
Exo recently starting serving a few small breakfast plates. Until noon, you can enjoy traditional breakfast entrees, which are made using locally sourced eggs and produce. They also offer some tasty pastry treats including a delicious seasonal pumpkin muffin and a daily GF carrot cake muffin. Other benefits of visiting Exo include 50 cent refills on coffee, ease of finding free side street parking, and great hours (open 7am-6pm). On one sour note, – there is definitely room for improvement in the service department.
What to do nearby: Maynards (featuring the most delicious baked eggs dish) and Cup Cafe in the historic Hotel Congress offer the best breakfast fare downtown, as well as the most charming ambiance. If you are up for a bit of culture, check out the Tucson Museum of Art or scan the Fox Theater’s (a gorgeous historic theater built in 1930) website to see if there are any special events on the lineup.
Location: 403 N 6th Ave, Tucson, AZ 85705
This cute little coffeehouse is a little bit less trendy than the 2 mentioned above, and thus, a great choice for anyone seeking a cozy, comfortable traditional coffeehouse experience away from all the crowds. It is the most local feeling coffeehouse in the Tucson area. The setting here is quiet and the decor is eclectic. Because Roadrunner is a bit out of the way, tucked away in a quiet strip mall, there are barely any crowds and it is easy to find a seat.
They have the music on at just the right level so you can still hold a conversation or get some work done. The staff is always pleasant and willing to offer you samples.The 100% fair trade organic coffee is absolutely delicious and comes with 1 free refill. Pricing here is very moderate compared to the other shops.
Roadrunner was founded in 2004 by a Seattle family who wanted to bring quality Pacific Northwest style coffee to the Tucson area. Roadrunner offers all your typical espresso selections (the Americano is smooth and delicious), as well as a number of specialty drinks including the Marana mocha, which is a tasty sweet mixture of dark and white chocolate with a splash of mint).
Non coffee drinkers can treat themselves to a number of caffeine free drinks such as smoothies, shakes, and tea. Lots of fresh pastries (including the most gigantic muffins I’ve ever seen), oatmeal, and small breakfast plates are available if you need to fuel up before hitting the trail or bike path.
Roadrunner is the only cozy coffeehouse in Tucson which actually serves good coffee in addition to providing a cozy local space to enjoy it. There are several comfy couches – a major bonus as most Tucson shops only offer stiff uncomfortable seating designed to make you want to leave! The space is very clean and attractively decorated with all sorts of local art and the bright blue wall is eclectic and pleasing to the eye. There is also a nice outdoor patio, so if you arrive early enough, you can enjoy your coffee and the moderate desert morning temps. It’s dog friendly too and the staff are always kind enough to bring out a dog water bowl and sometimes a few treats as well!
There is also a convenient drive-thru, however, I recommend taking a break and enjoying your coffee in the lovely setting. On busy days, the baristas seem strained attempting to serve in house customers as well as drive thru patrons and the customer service becomes a bit sub par during these periods. Go to a chain if you want to pick up your coffee to go! Everyone is in too much of a rush these days!
Hours at Roadrunner are perfect for those who want to get an early start, particularly if you want to get on the trails very early in the morning to beat the heat during the summer season. Roadrunner is one of the only non chain coffee options anywhere near Oro Valley. There is no reason to resort to common chains when you have a nice local option like Roadrunner in the area!
What to do nearby: Recommended nearby activities include hiking at Catalina State Park (featuring the best mountain views in Tucson via a variety of easy-hard trails) or taking a leisurely bike ride along the paved multi-use Canada del Oro Riverfront Path.
Location: 9665 N Thornydale Rd, Tucson, AZ 85742
Hours: 5am-5pm (Mon-Fri) and 6am-4pm (Sat), 6am-2pm (Sun)
Cartel Coffee Lab
Cartel is an Arizona specialty single origin, craft roaster with several locations throughout Tucson and Phoenix, including the main roasting facility in Tempe. The green beans, which are sourced from around the world, are roasted pretty bold, with sweet notes of chocolate and berry. The coffee is very flavorful and strong without any bitter type of aftertaste. Their espresso based drinks are always wonderful.
The menu here is smaller than most coffee shops, focusing on quality coffee drinks rather than a bunch of sugary lattes and mochas, although the mocha here is pretty fantastic! It is evident that the baristas at Cartel have been trained in proper coffee preparation. The cold brew is supposedly the best, although I prefer to drink my coffee hot, so I cannot attest to its’ quality. On a downside, the drinks are all pretty pricey, however, you get what you pay for in terms of quality. There is no reason to visit a Starbucks in Arizona when Cartel is an option!
They always offer a number of enticing treats each day such as quiches and muffins. If you see the coffee cake pictured below, treat yourself to a slice – it’s really delicious and homemade!
Each Cartel location is spacious and uniquely decorated. The downtown Tucson location is especially attractive with a really creative layout. Love the diversity in decor here, from brick walls, to cactus, to bicycle displays…it is really an eclectically designed space. Plus, there are big windows so you can people watch downtown. The vibe at all Cartel locations is very hipster and trendy like most modern coffeehouses today. The staff is always the nicest at the downtown location (a friendly barista once gave me some free coffee to test out at home) and it is easiest to find a seat here as most of the student traffic is centered around the Campbell location.
What to do nearby: Stroll around the eclectic 4th Avneue shops (note: the area is a bit dingy but there are a few good shops to kill some time), play old-fashioned pinball games at D&D, or grab lunch at Reilly’s Craft Pizza or 47 Scott.
Location: 2516 N Campbell Ave Tucson, AZ 85719
Le Buzz is a decent coffeehouse/breakfast place on Tanque Verde Rd., which makes it a good choice for anyone heading up the scenic Mt. Lemmon Highway. It’s not my top choice due to the insane weekend crowds and noisy atmosphere, however, it’s the best choice if you happen to be going out this way and the coffee and breakfast plates are both pretty tasty. On any given day, you will see lots of cyclists and hikers filling up here. Unfortunately, it’s quite hard to find a seat on the outdoor patio if you arrive too late.
Most people visit Le Buzz for their enticing display of fresh pastries (think Panera Bread with a bigger selection). The coffee here is great, although the drinks at the above mentioned shops are better. Le Buzz roasts their own beans and the resulting coffee is smooth & delicious enough to warrant a cup. The benefit of visiting Le Buzz over the others is their great breakfast menu. A slice of Quiche (several meat & veggie varieties offered) is the perfect morning treat for those looking for a non sugary alternative to the bakery treats. Burritos, egg sandwiches, and egg tartines are also offered. The paninis are excellent.
Location: 9121 E Tanque Verde Rd, Tucson, AZ 85749
Other decent shops to check out
Savaya – Sayava is a local coffeehouse with several locations throughout town. Their roasts are a bit too strong and bitter for my taste, however, they are dedicated to using high quality organic beans and have convenient sample cups out to try out their daily roast. Their mochas are also quite good, although not the best in town. And, they offer a few tasty seasonal drinks like the Peppermint Mocha and Pumpkin Spice Latte. The Oracle Rd Oro Valley location faces the beautiful Catalina mountains and is the perfect place to enjoy a long leisurely cup of coffee in beautiful setting.
Yellow Brick – Yellow Brick is a fantastic local roaster, although they have dreadful hours (not open on the weekends, only open til 2 on weekdays!). Their coffee is absolutely delicious and if you can get out there early during the week, it’s worth checking out! Beans are roasted in small batches to bring out the unique flavor and the result is pure deliciousness. I have only had the opportunity to try them out at the Farmer’s Market due to their limited hours. Hopefully, they will expand to include weekend hours in the future.
Brewd – Brewd is a convenient choice for anyone heading out to Sabino Canyon, Tucson’s most popular tourist attraction and a great place to see lots of Saguaro cacti. I really wanted to like this place due to the convenience, friendly staff, and comfy seating. However, the coffee just is not good. The homemade Quiche and pastries are decent, so stopping for breakfast is recommended, however, the burnt tasting coffee is not good for those who drink their coffee black like me. In short, stop here for a quick bite prior to your Sabino Canyon visit, just skip the coffee!
Raging Sage – Raging Sage is another local’s favorite in Tucson. However, like Brewd, the coffee has that burnt taste which I cannot stand, and thus, is one of the few places I have ever tossed a coffee. On the other hand, the mocha I tested wasn’t too bad. They have a nice outdoor patio, so stick to the mocha based drinks and avoid the regular coffee. On another disappointing note, Raging Sage does not have wifi available until after 11am.
Caffe Luce -Caffee Luce is a University of Arizona hangout with 2 locations including one downtown. Tried the downtown location and was not at all pleased with the surly attitude of the baristas or the completely watered down coffee. Pass this in favor of nearby Cartel, which offers better service and much, much higher quality coffee.