During a recent visit to Tucson, I made a point of visiting a number of espresso cafes, which is something I like to do whenever I travel. In Tucson, I went to three places: Caffé Luce, Café Passe, and Savaya Coffee.
The Savaya was a must, because it appeared to be highly rated (more on that later) and was close to where I was staying. And just to get to the heart of the matter before you continue reading, the cappuccino I was served at the Savaya tied for the worst I’ve ever experienced.
Is my palette dead or distorted? I don’t think so: while blindfolded, I can tell you whether I’m drinking Talisker, Oban or McCallan’s, and I’ve had espresso all over the world. Just for a point of reference, my favorite mass-market espressos are Traveller’s (based in Moscow) and Café d’Arte (in Seattle). They are pretty much my standards for flavor, complexity and strength.
So what about the Savaya? First off, as I waited for my cappuccino, the barista was having an earnest conversation about beans and acidity, which I thought was probably a good sign. But I also noticed that during my five-minute wait, the same barista kept reminding customers of the Savaya’s “best coffee” rating, something that should send up a red flag. (If you’re really “the best,” do you need to continually remind yourself and everyone else?)
And then the coffee arrived. I took two drinks: after the first sip, I didn’t want to believe that my glass contained a nasty brew that tasted like sulphuric acid and ashes from a partially smoked Lucky Strike. But in the interests of science, I took another drink. Dreadful. I then left.
As I mentioned, a local magazine—Tucson Lifestyle—named Savaya the best coffee place in 2009 and 2011, the result of a readers’ poll. This is mystifying enough (although not really, given the long queues in our society for things like Stephen Spielberg movies and special deals at Kentucky Fried Chicken). And they certainly like to remind you. I've noticed that on other review sites, people keep talking about the atmosphere. But the coffee itself (which is the whole point, isn’t it?) is absolutely undrinkable.
If you find yourself in Tucson, a surprisingly charming town, my advice is that you have your espresso at Café Passe or Caffé Luce and avoid the Savaya at all costs.