Phoenix area brews a number of unique coffee houses with colorful atmospheres

By Tom Collins
Arizona Summer Wildcat
June 12, 1996

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Early Saturday morning at the world's busiest coffeehouse, the Coffee Plantation at Tempe Centerpoint.


To begin, my parents rise early and hit the avenue. Mill Avenue - Tempe. It's a corporate colony. It's new America.

The Coffee Plantation at Tempe Centerpoint on Mill is "where the world meets;" where everybody does.

It is the busiest coffeehouse in the entire world, said Reba Casselman, Coffee Plantation retail manager.

"We sell the most coffee," she said.

The "Plant," as the locals refer to it, was started seven years ago by two local boys, who later sold out. It is a different world at different times of the day, but it is always the place to be.

In the morning, there are regulars, and the sun hits the big windows. The bricks of the patio feel clean, like the sun does. It captures the morning, there are always a few rambling relics to look at, and the coffee is pretty good. It feels good in the morning with a muffin and a copy of the New York Times.

This is the original Plant, and the only one that feels like a new thought, not contrived. On weekend nights there are massive crowds, and the people-watching is incredible. There's always some desperate preacher trying to save the masses, gutter punks and Paradise Valley preeners. There is every piece of what the world is coming to in that courtyard.

At night, it is real, like coffee in your stomach in the morning. The bricks in the courtyard don't seem so clean anymore. It is a place to see yourself.

Away from the hustle of Mill Avenue, in a building that once housed a bank, is the Gold Bar Coffee House, 1707 E. Southern Ave., Tempe. Its owner, P.Z. Westberg, moved here from the Pacific Northwest a few years back. He had owned a coffee house there, and upon arriving in Phoenix found he couldn't get a decent cup of coffee. So he started the Gold Bar, the "Choice of the Connoisseur."

The coffee house's ceiling is high, and the walls are covered with well-presented Impressionist work. An ornate piano sits in the corner, and there is music Thursday through Saturday, or whenever the spirit moves Westberg or any of his customers.

Westberg really loves coffee, and his coffeehouse is designed around it. The classy look of the place is something European. There is no music other than the piano, and the softly lit room, along with the art, set the mood. It is clear like the taste of the coffee. The coffee is excellent, and nothing interferes with the art of making it.

To experience something absolutely different, head for Envy Antiques and Tea Room, 6952 E. Main St., Scottsdale. It was voted "Best Place to Take your Grandmother to Lunch," in the 1995 Phoenix New Times reader's poll. Try the apricot tea and Cathy's Rum Cake, an Arizona delicacy. If you go, you will find a bright cottage. You will sit in antique chairs at tables set with antiques. It is the most truly demure experience on earth.

My mother loved it. She talked about the days when there were events that required hats. It is the absolute opposite of the Plant. It is everything we cannot be anymore. It is a quiet store that relaxes and makes you wish things were as simple as white gloves and parasols.

After an old-fashioned afternoon, it might be time for a cup of joe with "two lumps of hip." Higher Ground Coffee House, 1032 S. Terrace, Tempe, is three rooms of cool. Contemporary work of local artists is on the walls, and the purple-covered couches in the corner of the cafe make you feel cool. And you can drink a coffee called Rip City.

Higher Ground features live music and hosts the role-playing game Vampire and Phoenix's premiere poetry event, the Mary McCann Poetry Slam, hosted each Saturday night by Sarge Lintecum.

"It's pretty wild," said Higher Grounds manager Rod Hatthorn.

The slam is a performance poetry contest which puts the swing in the hip. Sarge, with his army shirt and long white beard, is half- Gandolf, half-hippie. He also plays some mean blues. He is the father figure to the hip, to the doofuses, to those who dig things. On Saturdays, there is a positive heat-seeking energy.

"It's like a democracy. You get all the ideas out in the open," said Sarge. "It's a hot poetry scene."

When you are in Higher Ground, you are anything you want to be.

Now, if you can get to sleep with all this verbal caffeine in your system, go ahead. But if you can't, check out the Valley of the Sun. You'll find java joints open all the time. There's a blend for everyone.