There are many changes in a neighborhood that can be seen as a sign of gentrification. The arrival of coffee houses is sometimes among them. The worst case scenario is that patrons of a specialty espresso shop will displace long standing residents of the surrounding area. The better outcome is a coffee house that reflects its neighborhood’s culture and heritage, promoting community among existing populations while welcoming new customers. As South Phoenix anticipates the changes to come with light rail, Azukar Coffee clearly fits in the second category.
Azukar is situated near the north bank of the Western Canal in South Phoenix, just a block or two north of the planned Baseline/Central light rail station, the terminus of the South Central extension currently under construction. It shares a garden atmosphere with its neighbor Alborada Village, a private event space that has hosted countless weddings, quinceaneras, and other milestones. The coffee shop has limited interior seating with work by local artists on the walls, but a prominent patio offers even more space and a place to store bicycles while inside.
The cafe activates its patio on Saturday mornings by hosting its weekly mercadito, a small marketplace of half a dozen vendors selling locally produced arts and crafts. Yoga classes, open mic events, and live music have also been staged on the patio at various times. The linkage to the South Phoenix community and its large Spanish-speaking population is reflected not only in the scheduling of events and selection of decor, but also more fundamentally in the menu, which is tinged with Mexican influences throughout the beverage and food selections.
Azukar’s coffee can be prepared as a simple cup of drip brew or blended into signature drinks like a dulce miele with cinnamon and honey or a caramelo mio with cajeta and caramel. Cold brew is available on its own or mixed with horchata. Espresso meets carbonation in the fizzers, two beverages that combine espresso with soda and flavorings such as ginger, pomegranate, or lime. Citrus also figures prominently in two caffeine-free limonadas, both a classic model and an enhanced version with mango and a kick from a dusting of Tajin seasoning on top.
Tea selections include a smooth chai and iced selections infused with cucumber, pomegranate, and hibiscus.To eat, there is usually a selection of pan dulce from a nearby bakery. Choices on any given day might range from walnut muffins to conchas, a soft, sweet bread in the shape of a seashell. Light meals can be found in the form of a bagel or bolillo roll with egg, cheese, and ham; a breakfast quesadilla; and a turkey pastrami sandwich. Almost all savory items are given a distinctive bit of greenery with the abundant use of spinach leaves and cilantro sprigs.
Those flavors are among many that define Azukar’s niche as a coffee shop authentically reflecting the traditions of the South Phoenix community. The pleasant patio and welcoming atmosphere make it appealing to the visitor on the way to or from South Mountain, and the location near the canal makes it a good stop for refreshment during a bike ride. South Phoenix will inevitably change due to many influences, not just light rail, but Azukar Coffee is the type of business that will enrich the area no matter what the neighborhood looks like in the future.
7246 S. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85042
Baseline / Central Station (under construction)