READERS' PICK: The combination of local beans from Wilde Rose and more than a few practiced hands ensures a stiff jolt of the quality black every time. At Cuppuccinos, you're guaranteed a demitasse with a perfect finish: a rich, brown patina of froth floating on the very darkest of wicked brews. And what would the perfect espresso be without the perfect scene to sip it in? Out here where the core of Tucson starts to blend with placeless America, Cuppuccinos hosts homegrown acoustical talent and local literati; and even when they're not, the kaleidoscopic assortment of regulars ensures there's something for every spectator: that fellow next to you probably holds public office, and next to him is a committed poetry-reading group, and next to them, somebody's posting another call-to-action flyer on the bulletin board. The pierced and the pencilnecked commingle in a sublimely lachrymal display of the brotherhood of man and oh yes, did we mention that the espresso's awfully good?
Meanwhile, the ubiquitous Starbuck's hegemony continues to insinuate itself into our happy pueblo, not at all unwelcomely as they've mainly targeted spots where a damn good cup of joe has been notably absent. Most recently, they've snagged two spots along stretches of River Road where beret-wearing beat poets in black turtlenecks have never been very thick on the ground. These are places where people go, but have never really had a place to actually hang out. So if the 'bucks can transform a nice place for a pit stop into a comfortable place to read a paper and knock back a hot one, more power to them. We really should mention that the espresso takes itself very seriously, but who doesn't already know that?
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Safehouse, 4024 E. Speedway Blvd. The Safehouse goes to great lengths to protect the secret of its aromatic espresso. Except to their employees, who are sworn to secrecy, the origins, blend and roast of their beans are unknown. Their elusiveness has paid off, though, as one can enjoy a unique espresso experience. The connoisseur will note the subtle acidity in this bold espresso. It's made in a golden, hand-pull machine and served with a thick layer of amber crème. Be sure not to inquire further -- if they tell, they'll have to kill you.
MORE MANIA: A lot of coffeehouses in the Naked Pueblo get their beans from one or two local suppliers, with the result being that a cup of joe tastes pretty much the same from one end of town to the other. Midtown's Raging Sage, 2458 N. Campbell Ave., ups the ante with their own fresh-roasted blends, which make for a mean cup of espresso. Without a drop of milk in sight, it has a creamy top, and it kicks like a mule just about the time you finish draining your demitasse. Raging Sage's take on espresso is utterly delicious -- and, as the news clippings by the cash register assure the concerned reader, it's good for you, too.
MORE MANIA: Wilde Rose Coffee Co., 216 E. Congress St. The lovely, hand-pull espresso machine, which café owner Amy Rose operates with the precision of a nurse administering a life-saving IV, has returned! It seems to require patience and a steady hand, two qualities not often associated with serious coffee drinkers. It gave out some months ago and was replaced with a speedy electric one, but we received untold comfort from it in the café's first year of operation -- in the form of perfect cups of rich, dark espresso lightly capped with the muddy froth distinguishing the truly expert espresso.But whatever the equipment, Wilde Rose serves an admirable espresso every time. (See Best Beans, page 77.)