Who Drinks Coffee in the Desert?

Independent coffee stands can be found on nearly every corner in Spokane, Washington. In one six-mile stretch of highway I counted ten independent espresso shacks and one Starbucks. As that was my route to work, I sampled most of them in search of the perfect vanilla latté and found my favorite brew at a shop called Dagny’s: two drive-through windows and no inside seating.

Now, as a transplant to Phoenix, Arizona, I’m jonesing for my Dagny’s latté and the friendly baristas who knew me by name and didn’t need to ask what I wanted but had it ready when they saw me coming. I’ve roamed the streets of Phoenix, from Ahwatukee to Chandler to Scottsdale and pretty much everywhere in between (this is a BIG city), and here’s what I’ve found: Starbucks. And wouldn’t you know it, in a place where 90 degree temps are considered low in the summertime, there aren’t many Starbucks with drive-through windows. They actually make you get OUT and go IN for your coffee. That’s practically unheard of in the Pacific Northwest’s coffee culture, where virtually every coffee shop has a drive-through window, even if they have inside seating.

Those outhouse-sized espresso stands are unknown in the Southwest. It’s Starbucks or it’s nothing. Well, okay, there are a few options in Phoenix for coffee drinkers who want some variety or simply don’t like Starbucks. You can find a latté at Einstein’s Bagels, at Barnes & Noble’s book stores, or at the rare Seattle’s Best coffee shop. There’s the very occasional independent, like Mama Java’s Coffeehouse. McDonald’s started selling what they claim is a latté a couple of years ago, but it isn’t (I guess they didn’t learn the ropes in the Pacific Northwest; we KNOW espresso drinks).

You’re probably thinking it makes sense that Phoenix doesn’t have much of a coffee culture, because who drinks hot coffee in the desert? I was surprised to find that, according to Fox News, “A recent study shows that residents of the Phoenix metro area rank high among cities that spend money on ‘designer’ coffee.” Tucson residents rank even higher! So why no independents?
I can only guess that the price in Phoenix of a 12’x12’ patch of concrete on which to place an independent espresso stand is so outrageous that it just isn’t worth it. Certainly it isn’t because they wouldn’t succeed: put one in my neighborhood and I’d keep it in business singlehanded. In the meantime, I bought myself an espresso machine, which at my previous rate of latté purchases should pay for itself in, oh, about ten days. And I’ve put in a call to Mike, who owns that Dagny’s back in Spokane: there’s a great spot of real estate here in Phoenix, just waiting for you to land on. It’s my driveway.