The One-Hour Cup of Coffee

By Terrence Henry
henry apr27 coffee.jpg

Photo by Terrence Henry


Buenos Aires is a great coffee city. No, you won't find myriad varieties of beans here, or some great technological advance in the brewing process, but this is a city that knows the art of drinking coffee well, if not the perfect technique to brew it.

In Buenos Aires, you don't get a 20-ounce latte in a to-go cup, in fact there is nearly no coffee to-go in the city, except for a chain of coffee shops called Havanna that offer the amenity. But very few take them up on it (and those that do tend to get strange looks from passers-by).

Instead, coffee here is enjoyed slowly, at a sidewalk cafe, sitting still, in an actual mug, with no plastic lid getting in the way. Throughout the day, locals take their time with it, chatting up friends, admiring the street scenes, or reading the newspaper. Coffee here is a more measured decision, because instead of five minutes you are more likely to spend an hour with your cup.

The coffee is strong, and best enjoyed in smaller quantities--the cortado is my favorite, an espresso with just a spoonful of steamed milk on top (identical to the drink of the same name in Spain). Others prefer the inverse, the lagrima, which is a cup of steamed milk with just a spoonful of espresso (lagrima is Spanish for "teardrop"). There's also cafe con leche, cappuchino, and a wonderful take on hot chocolate called submarino (which I'm saving for a later post).

Coffee here is a more measured decision, because instead of five minutes you are more likely to spend an hour with your cup.

The best cafes in Buenos Aires are the ones that give you a gratis treat to accompany your coffee. At our favorite, De Cata (pictured above), your cortado will arrive with a small plate with a small brownie with a raspberry jelly and butter-crumb topping, along with a sugared orange peel. There's also a small shot glass of mineral water to wash it all down at the end. Other cafes will give you a few butter cookies, a small slice of pound cake, or a small, sweet croissant called a medialuna ("half-moon").

The sidewalk cafes here aren't all sunshine, however--safety concerns prevent you from using your laptop outside (purse- and laptop-snatching at cafes is sadly not that uncommon here), so while I'd like to be writing this with a cortado at my side, instead I'm at home, in the kitchen. But as soon as I'm done, it's over to De Cata for my fix. I'll see you in an hour.

De Cata Reposteria Boutique
670 Soldado de la Independencia
Las Canitas, Buenos Aires
4773-9054

Corby Kummer responds with a very different approach:
In Italy, it's a One-Minute Cup

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/04/the-one-hour-cup-of-coffee/16594/