Every once in a while, I find myself trying something at a place that’s been right under my nose for years. Earlier this week, I had a meeting at my church to go over some volunteer paperwork. The time between leaving work and my appointment was about an hour, which is about 40 minutes longer than the drive. I got on Google Maps and searched for coffee shops near the church, and one of the most highly rated was about two blocks from the church. It’s called Tres Leches Café, and it’s on West Van Buren Street in Phoenix, not far from the state capitol.
I think one of the reasons I never visited Tres Leches Café before, even though I’d passed it hundreds of times, is that it’s in a building that goes right up to the sidewalk, with no parking in front of the shop. This time, I drove by slowly enough to see the “parking in rear” sign in front of the store. So I nervously circled the block — this is kind of a shitty part of Phoenix — and down a narrow back alley, where sure enough there was parking for about a dozen cars, as well as a rear entrance to the shop.
As I entered, I held the door open for a woman and her two young children. A few moments later, she started her order at the counter. Then she pulled out her phone and started reading out several additional orders. Only one staffer was available to take orders while the other started preparing drinks. After several minutes, I started looking at my watch, wondering if I was going to be late for my appointment after all.
In the meantime, I was reviewing the distinctively Mexican-themed coffee menu. There were a lot of blends with ingredients like hand-crafted churro sauce and Abuelita chocolate. I had flashbacks to our visit to El Moro in Mexico City last summer, although there was nothing on the menu quite like the decadent French chocolate we had there.
After what seemed like an interminable wait, but was probably closer to five minutes, I finally got my chance to order. I chose the Tres Aztecas latte, and I think I even pronounced it somewhat correctly. It was made with Aztec xocolate, whatever that is. I was in an adventurous mood. The order taker was very polite and professional and informed me he was taking a dollar off the price because it was happy hour.
It occurred to me that I was about two blocks from the state capitol, and that this place should be packed with government workers. Then I remembered it was almost 4 pm, so the state workers who hadn’t gone home already were probably long past their afternoon coffee breaks.
After all my waiting to place an order, the barista offered me some samples of their snacks and then prepared the coffee very quickly. She handed it to me and, regarding me with captivating eyes, told me it was “made with love.”
I then looked for a place to sit. Tres Leches Café faces south on Van Buren, so at 3:30 pm in February I was looking for a spot where the sun wouldn’t shine directly in my face. That limited my choices.
When I finally sat down, I realized I was in some sort of shrine to Frida Kahlo. And if I hadn’t been to Mexico City somewhat recently, I honestly wouldn’t have known who Frida Kahlo was.
There was a young woman sipping a coffee under most of the Frida Kahlo art, so I didn’t snap a picture in her direction, especially since we were the only two in the room. She was reading a book, and I’m sure I was already driving her nuts with my restlessness in an old, squeaky wooden chair.
There was also an icon of Our Lady in Guadalupe in the same room, which seemed a bit out of place with all the Frida Kahlo stuff. On the other hand, both are typically associated with Mexico City, so perhaps that was the real theme of the room.
Anyway, the coffee. It was delicious. At its base, it was an above average caffe latte. However, to the base was added a mixture of bittersweet chocolate and cinnamon. It was just what I needed after eight hours of work and before a half-hour of paperwork.
Since Tres Leches Café is so close to my church, I think it’s likely I’ll be back, especially since they are apparently open Sundays. The coffee drinks are a little pricey at $4.50 for a 16-ounce, but the blow is softened by the fact that the price includes tax.