Cartel Coffee Lab has reaped its fair share of local and national applause, including that of BBC Travel and Food & Wine Magazine. With all those accolades, it's surprising just how modest Jason Silberschlag—the man behind the coffee—actually is. "We're all infants in understanding coffee," Silberschlag mused in a video on the shop's website. "It's one of the most complex beverages we consume." But, more than modest, Jason's comments reveal a very real respect and reverence for the drink—a respect that manifests itself in the staff's persistent experimentation, study, and instruction. The spot, after all, is not a coffeehouse; it's a coffee lab. Each of Cartel Coffee's four locations moderately play up the laboratory theme with lots of stainless steel, but offset any hint of coldness with brightly colored walls and original sculptures. Even more essential to the theme? The baristas are known to carefully explain brewing processes and technique to their customers as they create decadent espresso drinks, including the simple desert favorite: cold-brewed coffee. Light on the sugar, the brew allows sippers to really taste and admire the bold, earthy flavor of espresso beans culled from Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Guatemala. And though coffee is the most obvious drink to order at Cartel, you’ll want to pay attention to the rest of the menu, especially at the Tempe location. Since early 2013, this outpost has evolved from a straight coffeehouse into a full-blown microbrewery.
Amid brick walkways and burnt-red walls, leaves rustle softly. Steam rises in the distance, then quietly disappears. One moment, this place emits smoky hints of cedar; the next, it teems with notes of ginger and cinnamon bark. This isn’t an idyllic college campus on a brisk autumn night. It’s Infusion Tea, a charming café on the balmy streets of Orlando. Sun streams through oversized windows, warming chilly scoops of gelato and triple-decker cream-cheese sandwiches. More than 70 types of tea—including blacks, greens, oolongs, and herbals—can be ordered hot or cool, like most jazz saxophone solos. Though they hail from faraway lands such as China, Japan, and South Africa, many of these teas are organic and fair-trade certified, reflecting values owner Christina Cowherd cultivated while traveling the world in the Peace Corps. Rare, premium teas such as gyokuro transport taste buds to new frontiers as well, whether nestled in a takeaway tin or steeped in a pot made for sharing in house.
Crafting creative concoctions with culinary prowess and playful whimsy, Honey Moon Sweets proffers pastries, cookies, and cakes made from scratch and adorned as edible art. Sweetness-savvy suitors can court beloved companions, hoped-for heartthrobs, and favored dentists with the light but decadent gift of a 6-inch tiramisu specialty cake. A base of cloudlike sponge cake holds mascarpone cream between layers of espresso- and kahlua-soaked ladyfingers, which are delicately blanketed in a sheath of whipped cream, dusted with cocoa, and ornamented with curls of chocolate. After being gilded with gems of fresh fruit, the tempting treasure is topped with a valentine ribbon and a marzipan plaque announcing “I love you,” mending the bruised egos of pouty mouths after being teased by vindictive cheesecakes.
At Café Lalibela, you're expected to eat with your hands. The communal Ethiopian meals typically consist of injera—thin, spongy bread that tastes similar to sourdough—that diners, sans forks, use to scoop up wat, a stew made from veggies, meat, or both. Made from a grain native to Ethiopia, torn-off pieces of injera become utensils for fish stew simmered with red pepper or tikil gomen, a mix of cabbage, carrots, and potatoes. The menu features à la carte wat selections, as well as suggested combinations for individuals, parties of three, and tall figures made by parties of three concealed within a long overcoat. The staff's commitment to an authentic experience extends to its beverage offerings, including imported African wines, freshly roasted and brewed Ethiopian coffee served in a clay pot, and Tossign, an herbal tea from the country’s highlands.
For Greeks, the word opa can take on a whole host of meanings?from an exclamation after a blooper to the beckoning of a stranger to come on over. The folks at Opa Life Greek Cafe beckon their diners to live like a Greek (or at least to eat like one) and the menu features an array of items even more eclectic than the meaning of the restaurant's name. From breakfast to happy hour and late into the evening, the chefs prepare both classic and contemporary dishes such as stuffed grape leaves, beef souvlaki, and gyro wraps laser-engraved with each customer's name.