Not too often do café-goers have the opportunity to walk in on a real coffee bean roasting machine at work. Exo Roast Co. on Sixth Avenue, Cartel Coffee Lab on Campbell Avenue and Caffe Luce on University Boulevard are among those coffee shops that offer the experience once in a while, however there’s one quaint and homey coffee destination that may not be on your radar: Presta Coffee Roasters on First Avenue.
Tucson hosts a vibrant and dynamic gastronomical culture. It’s home to a rich coffee scene, and not necessarily because of the sheer number of café destinations. Metro Tucson’s numerous non-chain cafés and coffee shops contribute to many different unique and easily accessible experiences that coffee lovers, scenesters and passers-by alike can appreciate.
You may recognize Presta from perusing Mercado San Agustin’s market square, or you may have seen their iconic van as you biked along Tucson’s very own Bogotá-inspired Cyclovia route, but you might miss their sidewalk sign heading down First Avenue, just north of Grant Road.
“At Mercado, people tend to stumble upon us, but here people tend to come looking … a lot of food and coffee-oriented people, they’ll see us on Yelp or be looking for high ratings,” said Meredith O’Neil, who works as a barista and handles operations responsibilities at Presta.
If you do happen to turn into the driveway at the Presta sign, it’s still not immediately apparent where Presta is exactly. A modern-looking, one-story building has two exterior doors hidden behind a row of thin, metal beams supporting a light trellis. A sidewalk will lead you from the parking lot into the terraced area, at which point you’ll notice the building’s first markings besides a numbered address: Presta’s signature script printed on the floor-to-ceiling window adjacent to its entrance.
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A skinny bar table sits in the window and faces outward toward the sidewalk. As you enter the cafe, a trio of bicycles hang on the wall above rows of symmetrically-arranged coffee products. Natural light casts warmth throughout the shop, which has earthy wood panels and stacks of burlap sacks filled with whole coffee beans.
Shelves house a working record player and a row of vinyl, but the baristas get to claim auxiliary cord privileges as well; whether it be funky Of Montreal, velvety smooth Al Green or slow, simple, grungy rock, easy-listening tunes unassumingly permeate the trendy space.
“I love that the atmosphere here is very calm,” O’Neil said. “A lot of people come here to study and do work.”
Patrons have a small variety of seating options, including a perfectly broken-in leather sofa, short-legged cushioned chairs and bar seats — all of which are met by wooden tables or iron counters. A single barista mans the coffee bar behind a row of succulents, an espresso machine, Presta goodies and a minimalist coffee menu.
“Our menu is based on the idea that we’re a roastery and a tasting room; we encourage people to taste the coffee as it is,” O’Neil said. “I like that we have a simplified menu, but in the end, it really boils down to just the basics. I love that you can go to a place that does the basics really well.”
This focus on mastering the fundamentals contributes to an experience that allows for a no-frills, pure coffee drinking experience.
Patrons can focus on tasting the unique flavor profiles of the coffee, but they can also choose to add chocolate milk and syrups for classic mocha beverages as well.
To the right of the coffee bar, a translucent garage door opens to allow shipments of beans and equipment into the shop. To the left is Presta’s very own roasting machine — a sleek wonder of modern coffee production technology.
The roasting machine is the pearl of this shop and central component to the roasting that happens on Mondays when the location is closed to the public. O’Neill said they bag the coffee by hand.
Presta also serves a broader coffee community, from the farms where they purchase their coffee to other local cafes, including Big Heart Coffee, Time Market and Welcome Diner, dealing in both wholesale business and education. O’Neil said Presta does coffee cupping with samples of each coffee.
“It’s this whole process where, as the coffee cools, you can smell and taste all the aromas and flavors within the coffee, so people get an idea of the coffee in its most basic and raw form,” O’Neil said.
For an experience as smooth as their espresso, Presta Coffee Roasters is a hidden gem to check out for your next coffee excursion.
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