There’s some debate these days about the construction of multi-story apartment buildings (more mid-rise than high-rise) in the zone around Hance Park where Downtown meets Midtown. Maybe it was prescient that a coffee house opened back in 2010 adopted the name “Giant Coffee,” foretelling the arrival of taller buildings in a neighborhood that was then full of vacant lots and neglected properties. Although Giant’s own building is only two stories tall, its location seems to be well situated to take advantage of new customers expected as a result of nearby construction.
The shop is just a block east of the McDowell / Central light rail station. Despite its proximity to a major intersection, Giant is tucked away on First Street, hidden behind a CVS drugstore and the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivor’s Park. A long railing outside functions as a bike rack. The coffee house occupies a ground floor space with offices above and the Bunky Boutique as its neighbor. During hours that both businesses are open, it’s possible to browse Bunky’s selection of clothing, jewelry, and gifts while waiting for a beverage or food order to be prepared.
Giant’s share of the building is spartan with concrete floors, block walls, and minimal decor, but somehow it manages to seem warm and inviting. There are a few lounge-style chairs with tree stump tables facing the big windows that open to the street, but most of the seating takes the form of long tables. The most striking furniture is a series of high desks with a long bench behind them. It’s an ideal setup for laptop users made even better by power outlets at each station. Modern music by artists ranging from Thundercat to Blood Orange is usually heard on the speakers.
In a small but welcoming gesture, tables are adorned with fresh cut flowers in small vases — a nice touch of morning cheer familiar from Matt’s Big Breakfast, which happens to be owned by the same people behind Giant Coffee. The condiment station has milk from Straus Family Creamery in old-fashioned glass bottles like those that used to be left on doorsteps back when milk was obtained from the milkman rather than the convenience store. Orders are placed at the front counter. Signs indicate a special place for a two-dollar (cash only) express cup of coffee.
The shop approaches its most fundamental product with single origin coffees. The “daily drip” varies depending on which coffees are sold at any time, but it’s always the best value for anyone wanting nothing fancier than a good cup of coffee. Espresso drinks are also to be found at Giant, and one of the signature beverages is a honey vanilla latte, a sweet, but not too sweet, concoction for anyone wanting a gentle drink. The “Hot Xococatl” is hot chocolate full of Mexican spice. Sure, it’s sweet, but it’s also unexpectedly fiery. Honey lemonade is thoroughly refreshing.
Giant offers a “hot tea service” that is among the best coffee house tea experiences in Phoenix. Tea drinkers receive a metal tray containing a pot of freshly-brewed loose tea, a cup, a wedge of lemon, and a small container of McClendon Select honey. The teas come from Rishi, an organic, fair trade supplier, and their flavors and aromas are distinctive. Earl Grey is fragrant with intense bergamot scent steaming out of the pot. Rishi’s jasmine tea comes in tiny pearls that unfurl during the brewing process. Teas suitable for iced enjoyment include a tart tangerine ginger herbal blend.
Pastry is available throughout the day and discounted after 3 PM. Muffins, scones, bars, cookies and pies are on display at the front counter in rotating selections. Lemon poppy seed scones and cranberry crumble bars have been among recent favorites. In terms of savory selections, toast with butter or preserves is a simple option. Breakfast burritos are made in advance and heated to order. The ingredients are almost always some combination of potatoes, meat, cheese, and eggs. A house-made granola is full of whole almonds and pepitas without excessive oil or sweetness.
Giant is open every day of the week from 6 AM until 6 PM. Those twelve hours of service have been well-matched to the ebb and flow of traffic at nearby institutions like the Burton Barr Central Library and the Phoenix Art Museum. It remains to be seen if arriving residential populations in the surrounding blocks will bring about evening hours, or if Giant, like its older brother Matt’s Big Breakfast, will remain a daytime establishment. Either way, Giant Coffee, despite being on the ground floor of a two-story building, is standing tall as the neighborhood grows up around it.
1437 N. 1st St., Phoenix AZ 85004