Roasted Tea & Coffee Keeps Coming Up with New Drinks and Eats

March 12, 2013

by Teya Vitu

What’s surprised Nicholas Ilka the most in his near three years as co-owner of Roasted Tea & Coffee Shop, 33 N. Stone Ave.?

“The number of people I know by first name now,” Ilka said. “I didn’t know I’d become friends with so many of my customers.”

Nicholas Ilka is the man behind the counter at Roasted Tea & Coffee Shop.

Nicholas Ilka is the man behind the counter at Roasted Tea & Coffee Shop.

(Don’t get confused by the Stone Avenue address. Roasted is on the Pennington Street side of the Bank of America Building.)

Roasted has also become a de-facto conference room for teachers, judges, police, lawyers, City Council members and others who’d rather get away from the office for some meetings.

“It’s become a third place,” Ilka said. “It’s not your office or your home. A lot of people like to come down here with a couple people and have a department meeting.”

Small as the Roasted coffee shop is, you could choose to have your impromptu meeting in the area with the sofa, coffee table and two upholstered armchairs; at the small, round wooden table with wooden chairs; outside at the tiny bistro table with a pair of wrought-iron chairs; or at the counter, seated upon the piston-operated bar stools.

If you want to meet by yourself with your laptop, Roasted has free wi-fi.

Whatever else Roasted is (lunch boxes, simple breakfast options), locally roasted, freshly brewed Adventure Coffee Roasting coffee is a principal draw, as Pima County employee Lee Fuller summed up summarily one mid-afternoon while stopping by for a cup.

“Coffee,” Fuller said. “One word: coffee. The taste is really good.”

Ilka offers three of Adventure Coffee’s brews each day: the House Sumatran, decaf and what he’s calling Barista’s Bean: a choice by Ilka that changes every week. Mexican Chiapas was a recent choice.

“During the day, a pot doesn’t last more than an hour. We like to keep it with smaller pots. That keeps the coffee fresher,” he said.

Roasted has a sofa and two upholstered arm chairs is you want to kick back a bit.

Roasted has a sofa and two upholstered arm chairs is you want to kick back a bit.

Adventure Coffee is organic and fair trade. Ilka was already an Adventure Coffee customer at the St. Philip’s Plaza farmer’s market before he opened Roasted.

“I just brought my home brew into the shop,” Ilka said. “They fit my desire to keep business local. They far exceeded any quality requirement I may have.”

Customers can also get bags of any Adventure Coffee, whole or ground, at Roasted.

“Order any day of the week (Monday to Friday) and it will be delivered the following Tuesday,” Ilka said.

Tea, like coffee, is also locally produced by Maya Teas. Ilka also fills the lunch boxes with as much fruit and produce as he can find at local farmer’s market.

Ilka has experimented with lunch since the beginning. First, he offered sandwiches but he phased them out. Last summer, he started offering Light & Healthy Lunch Boxes.

He offers lunch boxes for meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans cleverly labeled T-Rex,

“fruit and cheese,” and vegan.

The T-Rex one week offered slices of turkey, breads, small pita triangles, salad, a mandarin, potato salad and hummus. The boxes change on a weekly basis.

“We make the lunch boxes,” said Ilka, who started the lunch boxes last September. “They’ve gone over really well, especially in the afternoon. We make them fresh. They’re ready to go. All are under 355 calories.”

Breakfast offers a variety of muffins, bagels and other pastries. Roasted also supplies a collection of Strawberry Propeller Gourmet Food oatmeal cups.

Ilka has also had fun creating specialty drinks in recent months. He’s about to start serving his newest, a lemonade infused with yerba mate tea. Since November, Roasted has had a Dirty Swiss Miss – hot chocolate made with steamed milk and a double shot of espresso.

Roasted is on Pennington Street across from Jacome Plaza.

Roasted is on Pennington Street across from Jacome Plaza.

“It’s been fantastic,” Ilka reported. “People love it.”

For summer, Ilka is bringing back the iced chocolate milk mocha that he started last summer.

Ilka and his mother, Geraldine Hogan, launched Roasted in August 2010, after they jointly owned and then sold Coronado Instruments, a telescope manufacturing company. Neither had run a coffee shop, but that didn’t stop them.

“I saw this shop,” Ilka recalled. “It needed some help. I decided I needed to be that guy.”

Ilka and Hogan have gotten to watch the Downtown renaissance evolve.

“I’ve noticed, especially this winter, a huge increase in tourists coming Downtown,” Ilka said. “The tourists are very interested in seeing what’s coming Downtown. They’re really excited about the streetcar. There’s definitely a lot more people working Downtown with all the new restaurants and bars. There are a lot more graduate students.”