Cartel Coffee Lab – Tempe, AZ

Located at 225 W University Drive, Tempe, AZ 85281
Open 7 days per week from 10a-10p

This was a very exciting visit. Apparently Arizona is home to a coffee brewing company called Cartel Coffee Labs. All of their locations are in the greater Phoenix area, save for one shop in Tucson, and in the Spring of 2013 the Tempe location was granted a license to brew beer onsite.


I don’t know very much about Cartel because I’m not much of a coffee drinker at all. In fact, I’ve sworn off consuming any kind of stimulant ever since that time my dad caught me trying a little bit of the blow he always used to stash in the garage and, to teach me a lesson, he made me snort the whole bag. In his defense, though, he said that apart from teaching me a lesson there were also cops banging on the door right that second and that I would totally be doing him a solid if I got rid of the evidence. But my brief conversations with people who’ve been to Cartel reveal that they make great quality coffee and that it’s the favorite haunt of students or programmers who need some serious kick in their drink that’ll keep them up all night if need be.

Alright, let’s get real for a second. I have nothing against coffee drinkers or even those people I call “coffee fanatics.” Sure, sometimes y’all use a lack of caffeine to excuse your shitty behavior toward others, especially in the mornings at work like that guy Tim in your office. He’s kind of a dick to people and assures everyone that he’ll turn in the accounting spreadsheets right after he has his morning coffee because he can’t function without it but maybe if you didn’t spend the last few days trying to fuck the new receptionist chick and actually got your work done on time I wouldn’t be hounding you for those spreadsheets at the last minute, Tim, you asshole.

But like I said, I don’t have a problem with those kinds of people. What does bother me is the absolute kneejerk denial that happens when I them people that their dependency on coffee every morning is no different than my alcoholism. They become so absolutely affronted at the notion you’d think I just told them that their moms have a strong resemblance to my favorite pornstar. Like, I’m not saying that the pornstar is their mom, obviously, I’m just saying they both look remarkably similar even though their moms are usually significantly younger.

I’m not saying all this to start a feud between coffee drinkers and beer drinkers. I say it to find common ground between us and our chemical dependencies. We’re a lot alike, you and I. Sure, you probably just need your caffeine to keep yourself awake at work in the mornings and able to function in your daily life while I need my alcohol to find solutions to my problems more creative than “kill yourself,” but the compulsion is essentially the same. So that’s why I loved Cartel Coffee Lab. It’s the perfect place where caffeine addicts and Classy Alcoholics can come together to serve liquid meals to their starving inner monsters. The best part is that the entrance to the place has only the slightest indication that it’s a brewery in the form of a small sign stating the establishment is a member of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild.


It’s a perfect place to go if you’re in the vicinity of the ASU campus and with someone who wants to grab a cup of coffee but doesn’t seem like they’d be up to going to a bar at 11AM. Just suggest Cartel and when you get inside act all surprised that there are beers on tap. Say something like, “Well I’ve never heard of a coffee shop that also brews their own beer,” and proceed to drink every single thing on tap, twice. The bar-baristas will probably roll their eyes at you because they’ve heard you say the same shit, like, half-a-dozen times now but as always, just tip really well and they won’t call you out on it.


Cartel is a pretty mellow place where most everyone is focused on their laptop and minding their own business. The look of the place can even be described as “industrial chic” if you’re an asshole. It’s definitely the kind of place where people won’t look at you weird for drinking a couple of beers while you work or chat with a friend as long as you stay sober enough to keep your pants on.


As for the beer itself they only had four brews on tap the day I went and while they were all perfectly good beers the standout was obviously their Coffee Brown beer. It’s like my Uncle Paco used to say: brew what you know. That’s probably why Uncle Paco’s signature homebrew was a rye-based beer that he seasoned with a couple of pharmaceutical ingredients. I believe he called it a “Rye-hypnol.” Anyway, be sure to visit Cartel Coffee Lab if you’re around ASU. Not only is it open 7 days per week (which few microbreweries are because they have to close a couple of days out of the week to brew) it’s also right off the campus grounds. Not to mention that drinking a Coffee Brown beer will help you stay focused on your studies because, based on what my dad told me, caffeine is more effective if it’s mixed with alcohol. That’s why he always spiked his coffee with whiskey before going to things like my parent-teacher conferences and school plays. It’s pretty much the only way we could motivate him to show up.