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A Miracle in the Desert?

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Name: Milagro Coffee y Espresso
Location: 1733 East University Avenue, Las Cruces, NM
Rating: 3-

After flying into El Paso, TX and heading an hour north to Las Cruces, I didn’t have the time or energy to head another 3 hours east in search of the godshot that espressomap suggests may be found at the Jahva House in Artesia. Fortunately, the CoffeeGeek community once again made my traveling easier by providing me with the name and location of one Milagro Coffee y Espresso, right in Las Cruces. This welcome find meant that I had no need for such a crazy coffee excursion. Instead, I was better able to spend my time (working and) heading out to White Sands National Monument, which certainly must be one of the most incredible places on earth (is this the Sahara or Hoth?).

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Now I should start by saying that finding Milagro is like finding water in the desert. In particular, I blame suburban developers, who seem fully incapable of deploying the standard U.S. address system when designing development strips. I’m unclear whether chain stores and restaurants, with their flashy signs and familiar logos, evolved to overcome one’s inability to read addresses while hurling down a 6 lane road at 40 miles per hour, or whether they formed a cabal to eliminate aesthetically pleasing and usefully designed developments as a way to harness their natural advantage in an addressless environment. The bottom line is that finding a place based on an address in this setting can be highly frustrating. To further complicate matters, Milagro Coffee is located one plot behind the plots located immediately on University, requiring that you navigate through parking lot mazes and winding access roads to find your way to the shop.

Once I arrived, I opted to dine in rather than take the drive thru – a Las Cruces necessity no doubt. I can’t say I was immediately impressed. The standard jute bag decoration scheme seemed a bit tired and Milagro reminded me of the many eclectic coffee shops I frequently encounter close to home. As I looked closer, however, I started to notice some subtle ways the cliche was turned on its head. That group of older men arguing around the table should have been ranting about Sartre or Marx or the last 8 years of Bush, but instead they were having a Bible study. Oh, and the menu includes green chile bagels and green chile cream cheese. More to the point though, Milagro’s homey atmosphere ends up being unique and welcoming given the chain store surroundings.

And then of course there’s the owner, Bernie Digman, who is no stranger to specialty coffee. He was a regular on the now legendary alt.coffee boards and frequently serves as a roaster at SCAA conventions. Just take a look here or here to get a sense of where he comes from as well as what he’s up against by opening a coffee shop and roastery in Las Cruces. He’s also a friendly and dynamic guy, apparently semi-fluent in the Zuni language. On my second day in, I introduced myself and he immediately invited me behind the counter – not knowing about my blog but understanding that I was a coffee geek.  He had me dose a shot from their Swift grinder and pull it from their PID’d, 2-group La Marzocco Linea. It was a chaotic experience given that it took place in the throws of the morning rush-hour, involved some slight scalding water to my hand and a couple of frazzled baristas that probably wished I was out of their way, but I appreciated the gesture and the opportunity to see their espresso making up close. Next time, he told me, he’d put me to work on the roaster!

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As far as coffee is concerned, Milagro Coffee roasts their own beans in the back of the shop and stores a supply of 10-12 beans for sale in bins right up front. Of those they brew 3 regular coffees and one decaf into thermal carafes which they cleverly store on a lazy susan right next to cash register. The cashier can easily fill up your cup with your choice of coffee by spinning the magic wheel. Certainly big plusses on selection.

On the first day, I tried the Tanzania Peaberry, which was the lightest roast for that day. On the second day, I opted for Costa Rican. Neither was over-roasted, bitter or burnt, but I wasn’t a huge fan of either coffee either. I thought both leaned a bit towards sour and were otherwise nutty, clean, medium roasted coffees without too much too them.

What made the difference for me was Milagro’s espresso. It’s a blend of four coffees pulled at a healthy dose of 21 grams (I didn’t note the temperature because of the panicked cry from the barista trying to work). What struck me was how light it was in character, quite possibly because it was such a crema-explosion. Fully half my single shot was comprised of long-lasting, lightly reddish crema. My second day shot was a little less crema prolific, but still notable. The flavors and aromas were at the upper end of the register and I distinctly noted some roasted banana notes in there. The acidity lifted the shot without turning it harsh or sour and the overall lightness of the shot struck me as somehow refreshing, if that’s a descriptor one would even consider for espresso.

Having been to a number of out of the way spots recently, I feel pretty confident in saying that Milagro offers a far higher quality coffee experience as well as being a more interesting and coffee-historical spot than your typical small town cafe. Certainly if you’re in this area, Milagro is worth your time for a visit.

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