READERS' PICK: Around these parts, the caffeine scene has been changing about as rapidly as the subject of a conversation between committed java junkies. Cafés are starting to resemble pizza parlors in that there's always another one you haven't yet tried. But as with the local pizza arena, there's one that never seems to budge from the top spot, and that's Coffee Etc. With its 'round the clock vittle-slingin', unabashed Southwestern theme and bottomless cups of world-beating brews, it's a reliable perennial favorite, and deservedly so. Not only are all the coffee varieties roasted here in Tucson, using two lovingly restored vintage roasting war-horses, but even the teas are selected and blended by hand. And there aren't many places anywhere that take custom roasting orders in quantities as small as one pound, using a diminutive but potent bean-toasting engine kept around for just that purpose.
But in the end, it's the hours they keep that secure their place in our fickle affections. Reliability counts for a lot, and it's nice to know both Coffee Etc. locations are always open, and they're not going anywhere.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Coffee X-Change, 4951 E. Grant Road; 6841 E. Camino Principal; 2415 N. Campbell Ave. In the old days, before electricity and the U.S. Constitution, there were places called coffee houses, where the cognoscenti met to discuss revolution, the king's troubling bowel movements and the latest sailing ship to go down in the south Atlantic with a full load of rum. Times have changed somewhat. Now we meet at convivial places like Coffee X-Change to discuss the cinema, Bubba's amusing sexual shenanigans, or the latest small business to go under thanks to those damn Big Box stores piratizing our neighborhoods. For the last few centuries, however, these civilized discussions have been fueled by caffeine, a substance thought to have evolved in some plants to ward off insects and other pests. We've never noticed an insect in any one of the three Coffee X-Changes around town, so the stuff must work. But we've certainly argued with many a political pest while savoring Coffee X-Change's piping hot mugs of java -- as good as any you're likely to find.
MORE MANIA: Having been initiated into the gourmet coffee cult, we're forever in search of the perfect cup: a brew unadulterated by frothy milk and cinnamon sprinkles; a libation that stands alone, steaming in a paper cup; a blend of beans that awakens the senses with scalding authority...Time Market's (444 E. University Blvd.) French roast is that brew, a rich, nutty blend that leaves us dizzy with appreciation, especially when accompanied by one of their jalapeño bagels.