Cartel Coffee Lab: Tempe’s Home for Wayward Hipsters
Waking to a horrifying discovery this, morning, I had to make a drastic paradigm shift in my life: finding a new coffee shop in Tempe. My favorite coffee shop, 3 Roots Coffee House, had to close down for the summer due to a lack of business when the college kids went on vacation (a sad, but understandable, turn of events. Tempe’s economy lives and dies with the tide of undergraduates in town). Not wasting any time, I went about finding a new coffee shop for the summer. Cartel Coffee Lab was my first stop.
Located in a strip mall on University and Ash, Cartel has been getting a sizable word-of-mouth buzz since its opening. The coffee shop’s use of the Clover coffee machine, a one-cup-at-a-time marvel in coffee technology, has granted Cartel Coffee Lab the unofficial title for the “best cup of coffee in town.”
I have no good excuse for having never been to Cartel Coffee Lab before now. It is down the street from my apartment. I go to a coffee shop every day. I love a good cup of coffee. I guess I was a little bit put off by how many people told me I “had” to go to Cartel. My unnamed fears about the coffee shop turned out to be warranted.
Real estate agents say that it’s all about “location, location, location.” Finding Cartel was no easy feat. The coffee shop is tucked into a strip mall that is, at first glance, devoid of life. Wedged behind a Buffalo Exchange (a Salvation Army thrift store for the skinny jeans set), Cartel Coffee Lab, from the outside, gives one a “hole in the wall” feel. Finding it for the first time, one might think he has found a hidden gem of urban development. The illusion is shattered with the first step inside.
Rows of cafeteria-style tables dominate Cartel’s interior. Aside from two small couches, the coffee shop offers no inviting places to sit. The aforementioned tables are lined with plastic chairs. These chairs are far from comfortable, and they are reminiscent of the stackable furniture found at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
The walls are lined with cables and piping, adding to the coffee shop’s “laboratory” motif. Cartel seems to be made to look at, not to make customers feel comfortable.
I waited ten minutes in line before talking to a barista. In that time, I saw that the clientele of Cartel Coffee Lab were mostly in their late teens or early 20s, with “cool” hair and big mouths about their exploits of the night before. More than once I heard a finely-coiffed youth express jubilation at how “messed up” she had been the night before.
When I finally got close enough to see the barista, he was brandishing a toy ray gun at the pretty blond ordering coffee. His laughter made it well known that he thought this was appropriate behavior.
When I got to the counter, the baristas demeanor changed. No smile, no “How’re you doing?” He was not just all-business, but he gave off the feeling that he was hurrying to get to the next attractive girl in line. My feeling from both the barista and Cartel Coffee Lab in general, was “You’re 30, you’re not in a band, and you aren’t in a band, and you don’t have any cocaine. Why are you here?”
Two good things about Cartel: the coffee was, in fact, very good, and they do have free wireless internet. Unfortunately, the long wait wasn’t worth even good coffee, and the uncomfortable seating made using the wireless internet almost impossible for more than ten minutes.
Cartel Coffee Lab has good coffee, so I do recommend trying it. The coffee shop is good when one wants a cup of coffee, and nothing more. The wait time makes a “quick cup of joe” impossible, but their java is worth trying.
Overall, Cartel Coffee Lab feels like a hipster DMV. The lines are long, the results don’t seem worth it, and everyone seems to be in a hurry. Go for coffee, but don’t stay if you want comfort or cordiality.