It’s easy to zoom right by Presta Coffee Roasters’ new namesake cafe in midtown Tucson. Housed within an industrial-looking building that is set back a ways from 1st Avenue, the shop has little outward flash or flair. Their presence is made only by a small wooden sandwich board. Guests enter through a patio area, wherein the true genius of the building’s layout becomes obvious. Huge windows, shaded by an intricate system of steel beams and sheet metal fencing, reflect an unobstructed view of trees and blue skies. The walkway, though cool and private, gives the illusion of being open and airy. Inside the space (shared with Repp + McLain Design and Construction) is a gorgeously curated shop that points toward a larger trend in southern Arizona coffee.
Tucson’s specialty coffee scene is growing up and blowing up. The college town, home to the University of Arizona, has been a quiet hotbed of roasting activity for the past five years. Other area roasters like Exo, Yellow Brick Coffee, and Cafe Aqui have somehow managed to slip under the national radar for the past few years, despite producing some pretty solid stuff. Presta Coffee has quickly joined them in silent eminence.
We’re not quite sure exactly what can be held responsible for Tucson's fairly sudden shift towards specialty beans—but we’re willing to speculate. Tucson is a liberal stronghold in the middle of a red state. It has a thriving art and design scene, and a populace that doesn’t hesitate to lean on locally-owned businesses. There’s a co-op for everything. Like other similar mid-to-large sized cities that serve as cultural oases in their states (Kansas City, Austin, etc.), Tucson has managed to cultivate an unexpectedly cosmopolitan food scene catering to a more casual audience. With this has come an influx of restaurants, cocktail bars, and of course, coffee shops—each of which have offerings on par with those of any major metropolitan area.
The flourishing local coffee scene has allowed for healthy competition and curiosity-fueled innovation in Tucson. Presta Coffee Roasters stemmed from a small mobile coffee cart called Stella Java, which initially served beans roasted by Exo. The cart was started by Curtis Zimmerman in early 2012, and named for his wife. Zimmerman developed an interest in coffee in the same way many people do—by first indulging an interest in racing bicycles. His proclivity for cycling is evident in Presta’s décor: fast, fancy bikes hang above the shop’s merchandise display; impressionistic paintings of helmeted racers deck the walls.
Business grew quickly, and within a year Stella moved from its original location in the lobby of St. Mary’s Hospital to a more permanent spot inside open-air specialty market Mercado San Agustin. And last September, Stella started roasting its own beans—under the name Presta Coffee Roasters. In early May, Zimmerman opened Presta Coffee, a sister shop to Stella Java, which features a simple, scaled-down menu and welcoming interior.
Presta Coffee Roasters have tables. It has a table. It’s communal. Additionally, there are seats along the aforementioned window that gaze out onto the quiet patio. Which means that most of the space is open, and artfully minimalistic.
The bar floats, freestanding, open on each end. A cobalt blue Joper roaster sits in one corner, surrounded by jute sacks. Unfinished wood planks line one wall, forming the backdrop for a beautifully curated merchandise shelf. A built-in record player stand provides music; a fermentation tank holds cold-brewed coffee which will eventually be put on nitrogenated tap.
Bags of Presta’s espresso blend (named “120 PSI”) are hand-labeled with their contents and their respective proportions (75% Colombia Valle de Cauca Suprema, 25% Ethiopia Guji Adalaa Andararaa). The shop is breezy and full of light, which makes it feel deceptively beach house-y—despite its being in the middle of the desert.
Presta’s drinks are served in beautiful, earthy, stoneware-style mugs, which, Brackeen explains, have been handcrafted by Anthony Wolking, an Ohio-based friend of the Zimmerman family. His vessels are fired in an underground kiln, each slightly different from the next.
The service, too, feels unique—kind and genuine, despite the cool-kid bike vibe and clearly rising trajectory. Presta has all the hallmarks of a big city shop with none of the pretense or nonsense—and we can’t wait to come along for the ride.
Zaida Dedolph is a Sprudge contributor based in Phoenix, Arizona. Read more Zaida Dedolph on Sprudge.