In Argentina, Malbec and Mate might take center stage, but Buenos Aires’ coffee culture is not to be ignored. Porteños, natives from Buenos Aires, have mastered the lingering art of the “social cafe” and from morning to afternoon, coffee bars are filled with men dressed in sharp suits reading the paper, women sharing the day’s news, and groups of friends discussing the state of the economy; yes, there’s always talk of the economy. While Argentina is not a coffee producing country, neighbors like Brazil and Colombia are starting to introduce quality beans to specialty shops. Argentina’s love affair with the espresso is evident in Buenos Aires’ historic cafes, also known as “bares notables,” and can be attributed to the Italian immigrants who flocked to the country in the late 19th century in search for a better life. Cafe Rivas in San Telmo, a neighborhood dubbed as the birthplace of Tango, remains a landmark from those times and is nestled in a quiet street away from the tourist trail. Perhaps Buenos Aires’ most famous historic cafe is Tortoni, a gathering place for the likes of writer, Jorge Luis Borges, and Carlos Gardel, the most prominent figure in the history of Tango. It is said that even Einstein visited during its heyday.
Walking through the streets of Palermo, dotted with quaint specialty shops, one can easily spot the flat whites and cappuccinos in more modern settings with reliable Wifi. Full City Coffee House, located in Palermo Soho (Thames) serves its own brand of Colombian coffee and multiple variations of the cortado, one of which features a dash of lavender. A few blocks down (Costa Rica), another Colombian joint offers quality brews in a welcoming atmosphere. Their playlist is so good, it has its own Spotify account, and the pastries are worth the calories, but who’s counting calories in Argentina? Also in Palermo (República Arabe Siria) is Birkin, a Parisian-style café and decent brunch spot with a superb flat white, and Coco Café, a vintage diner serving artisanal pastries (possibly the best alfajor in town), and a tasty twist on the Italian-style cappuccino.
Like much of the city’s architecture, Buenos Aires’ coffee culture borrows from the Europeans; a coffee-to-go will give you away as a foreigner and don’t expect anything “Venti” at a local coffee shop. Leisurely going to a cafe is so essential for porteños that Argentina’s Tourism Ministry sought for it to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage intangible cultural patrimony and a city-wide program, Leo en Los Bares (Reading in coffee shops) was launched in Buenos Aires in 2010 to promote the age-old tradition of accompanying a coffee with a good book.
Wondering how to blend in and enjoy this “pastime” like a local? Grab the morning paper, ask for a cafe en jarrito (double espresso in a mini mug) or the popular cortado (espresso with a dash of milk) and a medialuna (Argentina’s version of a croissant) and strike up small talk with your nearest neighbor starting with…the state of economy.
By Amy Sedeño