Don’t rule out the coffee scene in Tucson. Instead, check out our favorite third wave Tucson coffee shops where you can drink awesome cappuccinos, espressos and pour overs when you’re not eating tacos, burritos and Sonoran hot dogs.
It’s no surprise that Tucson has a vibrant third wave coffee scene.
After all, the state’s second largest city is the home to an emerging restaurant scene as well as the University of Arizona. And, as we all know, college students have hung out in coffee shops for decades.
But students aren’t the only ones who drink coffee in Tucson. Coffee shops have become a hub of both work and play for people of all ages in today’s location independent world.
The challenge isn’t finding good coffee in Tucson. Instead, it’s deciding where to drink it.
Sure, you can drink coffee at fast food chains like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts or at local chains like Coffee Times if that’s your thing. It’s not our thing.
It’s all a matter of flavor. We like drinking coffee crafted with freshly roasted single-origin arabica beans that aren’t over roasted. In other words, we don’t enjoy burnt bread and the same concept applies to coffee.
This is what we drink when we’re home and wherever we travel. Accordingly, finding good coffee in Tucson was one of our top priorities.
Our Favorite Tucson Coffee Shops
We would have been happy to find one good coffee shop in Tucson. Instead, we found several.
Always searching for our next great cup of coffee, we discovered solid options at coffee shops located in stand-alone cafes as well at coffee shops located inside markets. One coffee shop required a five-mile drive from the city center but we don’t mind traveling out of our way for a cup of good coffee.
Read on to discover our picks for the best coffee shops in Tucson:
1. Decibel Coffee Works
Operating out of a refurbished container in the Mercado San Agustin (MSA) Annnex, Decibel Coffee Works doesn’t have a fancy dining room or a full food menu. What it does have is excellent coffee plus a curated selection of house-made pastries, biscuits, granola and ice cream.
It was clearly a sign when we kept bumping into Decibel’s coffee. After drinking excellent coffee brewed with Decibel’s beans at Seis Kitchen and Cup Cafe, two of our favorite Tucson brunch spots, a visit to the container cafe was practically inevitable. Or, in our case, two visits.
We stuck with coffee during our first visit. Daryl ordered a Cafe de Olla, the cafe’s version of Mexican-style coffee made with espresso, chocolate, cinnamon syrup, cane sugar and spices while Mindi ordered a carbonated Cold Brew Soda refreshingly served with an orange slice on top.
Going a different direction during our second visit, we ordered more traditional brews – a cappuccino for Mindi and good old drip coffee for Daryl. We also ordered two scones, one savory and one sweet. The combination provided an ideal start to our day and would likely be a weekly thing if we lived in Tucson.
Owner Nick Hoenig brought a world of experience when he settled in Tucson and started roasting coffee with partner Dana Fehr. Originally calling their business Hermosa Coffee Roasters, the duo later opened their coffee shop and changed the company’s name from Hermosa to Decibel.
Hoenig, a trained museum who previously worked as a shrimp farmer in Ecuador, couldn’t contain (pun intended, container park, get it?) his passions for both music and quality coffee when we bumped into him at the cafe. Since we share those two passions, it was a good conversation.
Go crazy and add organic syrup to your Decibel coffee. Flavors include almond, caramel, cafe de olla, cardamom, chai, chocolate, hazelnut, honey, lavender and vanilla (both regular and sugar-free) as well as flavor-free simple syrup.
Decibel Coffee Works is located at 267 South Avenida del Convento, Building #9, Tucson, AZ 85745, United States.
2. Exo Roast Co.
Exo’s 6th Avenue coffee shop, with its exposed brick walls, high ceilings and coffee roaster in the back, may be the most comfortable cafe in Tucson. It’s a simple, quiet spot to catch up on email and do light work. And, of course, it’s also a good spot for chilling out with coffee.
Roasting coffee for more than a decade, the Exo team opened their downtown cafe in 2012. Though a decade is practically a lifetime when it comes to third wave coffee, Exo’s owners haven’t lost their coffee enthusiasm yet. As owner Chritopher Byrne explained to us, they operate as ‘localists’ and source beans from nearby Mexico whenever possible.
We sampled some of Exo’s Mexican beans both in both a honey roast espresso shot and a cappuccino during our two visits. We also drank a V60 pour over crafted with Colombian beans. However, Exo’s shop’s Chiltepin Cold Brew was the standout beverage of both visits.
Creamy with a spicy chocolate flavor, the unique cold brew popped with the addition of local chiltepin peppers. The iced beverage cooled us down and warmed us up with each and every sip.
Order a Mole Dulce Latte if you want to sip a hot coffee drink that’s both spicy and sweet.
Exo Roast Co. currently has two locations. We visited the orignal cafe located at 403 N 6th Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85705, United States.
3. Presta Coffee Roasters
Presta Coffee Roasters isn’t the first coffee operation we’ve encountered with a cycling connection. We’ve seen them in cities as varied as Girona, Bucharest and Lyon. However, Presta is the only one that serves prickly pear drinks in addition to crafted cappuccinos.
Curtis Zimmerman, an avid cyclist, literally rolled into the coffee business with a coffee cart instead of a bicycle. That was back in 2012. Today, he roasts his own beans, serving them at three of the company’s cafes. He also sells them to restaurants like Prep & Pastry.
Inspired by Nordic coffee cultures in cities like Denmark’s Copenhagen, Presta’s baristas craft cappuccinos and lattes with lightly roasted beans sourced from a range of countries including Colombia, the Congo, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatamala and Nicaragua. Its 120 PSI Blend combines beans from two of those countries, Colombia and Ethiopia.
We tried one of Presta’s lightly roasted cappuccinos and a drip coffee roasted with Nicaraguan beans. And, since we were in Tucson, we also tried a seasonal Saguaro Sunrise – a sparkling, perky juice refresher with prickly pear nectar, orange juice, lime juice, hibiscus berry herbal tea and zippy Tajín chili powder.
Order a Piña Colatte if you can’t decide between coffee or a fruit drink. This seasonal specialty drink combines cold brew with pineapple-coconut sauce and milk.
Presta Coffee Roasters has multiple locations. We visited the Mercado San Agustin cafe located at 130 South Avenida del Convento, Tucson, AZ 85745, United States.
4. Cartel Roasting Co.
As its name suggests, Cartel Coffee Roasters started out as a coffee roaster before opening its original Tempe cafe in 2008. The ambitious coffee operation now has a dozen cafes including two in Tucson and others as far flung as Palm Springs and Austin.
Although Cartel roasts its beans 100 miles away in Phoenix, the downtown Tucson cafe doesn’t feel like an afterthought or satellite location. With exposed brick walls, comfy couches and a brick wall decorated with local art, the cafe’s vibe is both welcoming and funky.
During our morning visit to Cartel’s downtown Tucson cafe, ordering a cold brew was an easy choice due to the Arizona heat. The harder decision was choosing the beans for our chilled coffee – single origin Ethiopian beans, house Colombian blend or a version infused with nitrogen. We chose the house blend along with a cappuccino.
Hungry customers can choose from an array of sweet treats (think cakes, turnovers and bear claws) as well as savory burritos. Those who linger longer can do so with or without a computer in tow.
Sign up for one of Cartel’s coffee subscription programs if you want to receive a 12-ounce bag of beans on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis.
Cartel Roasting Co. has multiple locations. We drank coffee at the cafe located at 210 E Broadway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85701, United States.
5. Yellow Brick Coffee
Although Dorothy followed a yellow brick road to get home to Kansas, we drove five miles down 210, also known as the Barraza-Aviation Parkway, to drink good coffee at Yellow Brick Coffee. Our shorter journey to an office park was rewarding in its own way since our prize was excellent coffee.
Siblings Anna and David Perreira started roasting coffee in their parents’ garage in 2012 and moved to the office park a few years later. Despite its bright yellow San Franciscan coffee roaster and similarly colored mugs, the cafe feels like a basement hangout from our childhood, albeit a basement hangout with excellent coffee directly sourced from countries located as close as South American and as far as Oceana.
While we didn’t mind driving to Yellow Brick Coffee’s office park location, we found its industrial location to be a bit odd. That didn’t stop us from enjoying our pour over crafted with beans sourced from Papa New Guinea. And, if we had been hungry, we would have eaten a donut too.
As it turned out, we visited Yellow Brick Coffee too soon. The Perreira siblings are close to opening a state-of-the-art flagship cafe at Tucson’s Benedictine Monastery in midtown this year. We can’t wait to check it out!
Turn your visit to Yellow Brick Coffee’s original cafe into an adventure. It’s just a 20 minute drive from the San Xavier del Bac Mission and an 11 minute drive to the Pima Air & Space Museum (which is close to the currently closed Aircraft Graveyard). Both popular attractions are included in the Southern Arizona Attractions Discount Pass.
Yellow Brick Coffee is located at 3220 S Dodge Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85713, United States.
6. Caffe Luce
Caffee Luce wasn’t new to the coffee rodeo when the cafe’s owner, Michael Foster, took over Sparkroot Coffee’s downtown space in 2021. As we discovered when we wandered into the bi-level cafe, he made a good move.
Located across the street from the historic Hotel Congress, Caffe Luce’s downtown location is a striking space filled with interesting design elements from top to bottom. It also has enough electrical outlets to temporarily satisfy a gaggle of laptop warriors.
Although Caffe Luce locally roasts its beans, the cafe’s darkly roasted coffee didn’t wow us in the way that its downtown space did. However, we were intrigued by the cafe’s booze menu which features both Irish Coffee and Irish Chai, both crafted with Jameson Irish whiskey, as well as a Makers Latte crafted with Kentucky bourbon and hazelnut syrup.
Order a sandwich or a salad if you’re feeling hungry unless you’d rather order oatmeal.
Caffe Luce Coffee Roasting Co. has multiple locations. We visited the cafe located at 245 E Congress Street, Tucson, AZ 85701, United States.
Tucson Coffee Shop FAQs
Yes. Tucson has a vibrant coffee scene.
Expect to pay $3 to $4 for cappuccinos at Tucson’s third wave coffee shops.
Yes. Tucson has several third wave coffee shops that serve cappuccinos and pour overs.
Top Tucson third wave coffee shops include Caffe Luce, Cartel Roasting Co., Decibel Coffee Works, Exo Roast Co., Presta Coffee Roasters and Yellow Brick Coffee. Try them all plus more to find your favorite.
Yes. Tucson has several Starbucks coffee shops.
Where to Stay in Tucson
Located in a historic downtown building, The Citizen Hotel is Tucson’s first wine-themed boutique hotel. Guests can taste and drink wine at this well-appointed hotel when they’re not soaking in a tub. Actually, they can also drink wine in the tub since each has a wine caddy. Contact the hotel directly to book a room.
Modern and fun, The Tuxon attracts travelers who appreciate the hotel’s central location as well as its hopping pool bar and complimentary La Colombe coffee. Rooms are comfortable and parking is ample at this Marriott Bonvoy Design Hotel. Guests can even use the hotel’s laundry room. You can book a room via booking.com.
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
We thank Visit Tucson and its partners for their assistance to facilitate this and other articles.
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.
Original Publication Date: January 5, 2022