As the show “Portlandia” wraps up its final season, fans will inevitably look back on favorite moments during the program’s eight-year run. One top contender is likely to be the “Put a Bird on it” sketch in which characters Bryce and Lisa decorate every item imaginable with an avian theme. In the Evans Churchill neighborhood of Phoenix, Songbird Coffee & Tea House has put a bird on the concept of the local coffee house. Differentiating itself while living up to its full name, Songbird puts as much emphasis on tea as it does on coffee and espresso drinks.
Although it’s tempting to see everything ornithological as related to “Portlandia,” the shop’s name probably has more to do with artist Lauren Lee’s murals on nearby Roosevelt Street. That’s where Songbird originated before migrating, as birds do, to its current site on Third Street. The new location, like the prior one, is just a few blocks from the Roosevelt / Central light rail station. There’s no bike rack at the historic house that serves as Songbird’s present nest, but a sign encourages visitors to lock up against the wrought iron fence surrounding the property.
The 1904 bungalow welcomes visitors with picnic tables in the front yard, a swinging bench on the porch, tables and counters in a living room, and a small lounge area in the back. At the counter, which is also at the back of the house, look for a wall menu of coffee and espresso drinks spelled with Scrabble tiles on a board.The offerings range from the expected cappuccino and macchiato to more recently popularized beverages such as matcha latte and nitrogen-infused cold brew. The beans are provided by a local roaster, Cortez Coffee of Tempe
For the extensive tea offerings, far beyond what is found at most coffee houses, there’s a printed menu with categories not only for the expected black, green, white, and herbal, but also groupings such as “health and wellness” with teas claimed to have medicinal properties. All are brewed from loose leaves sold by Tucson’s Maya Tea. The teas are brewed to order for consumption on site and also sold packaged for brewing at home. All drinks can be accessorized with a choice of whole, skim, almond, or coconut milk.
Where there’s coffee and tea, there’s usually also some light food as well. Songbird’s food is mainly pastry on display at the front counter. There’s usually a combination of vegan treats from Treehouse Bakery and house-made goods from Songbird’s own tiny kitchen. Banana cashew bread, strawberry lemon bundt cake, raspberry breakfast pie, and a crumbly, cinnamon-tinged coffee cake have been among the recent pastry products on display. For a bit more sustenance, a variety of breakfast sandwiches are found in a refrigerated case opposite the counter.
During the day, Songbird is often populated with students and neighborhood residents. In the evening, there’s sometimes a little live music to draw a crowd. Local artists’ work is featured on the walls, illuminated by overhead lights fashioned from bird cages. With new construction occurring in the surrounding blocks, Songbird stands out for its small, vintage setting. It’s a good example of fine-grained urbanity filling in the gaps between bigger projects. With “Portlandia” entering rerun territory, it’s good to still be able to “put a bird on it” with a little local coffee or tea.
812 N. 3rd St., Phoenix AZ 85004
Roosevelt / Central Station