“In Argentina, we call Starbucks coffee ‘dirty water,’” an Argentinian friend told me during our lunch in a small town near Buenos Aires.
He said if you go to a coffee shop in Argentina, you say “un café”, you won’t get the medium or large size of coffee people order in America. You’ll mostly likely be served with the basic short black in a small espresso cup that’s just strong enough to keep you buzzing all day long, which is perfect for a city like Buenos Aires.
“The nightlife and the culture here in Buenos Aires stays up so late, that’s why I started drinking coffee. I drink at midnight just to make it 3:00am or 4:00am in the morning,” said Alex, a Tango dancer from Canada.
Although Buenos Aires has a rich culture, the coffee here is actually not that good.
“In Argentina, we never had a great coffee culture. And broadly, every café you go, they have one type of coffee, and not a lot of the options to pick from,” said Luciano, a radio journalist based in Buenos Aires.
Instead, he said, the cafés are more like places for social gatherings, such as the iconic Café Tortoni, one of the oldest – since 1858.
“I think there is a coffee culture as in a social way, like people gathering to have a coffee in these places, but I don’t think the coffee is that good here, and there is been a little explosion or maybe to trend, that could fade or not,” said Luciano.
In fact, new shops are popping in cities like Palermo, Luciano said; a coffee revolution is under the way.
Specialty coffee shops like the LAB are gaining popularity among the youngsters. After all, these are the places where they spend hours hanging out with friends, reading books, and talking about politics.
“People want to drink the long espresso, over strengthened, and the bad coffee, we don’t make over strengthened here,” said LAB barista Diego.
Diego said the coffee is brewed in the AeroPress, V60 and Chemex devices to best tailor the flavor of beans from worldwide coffee regions including Colombia, Ethiopia, and Brazil. Youngsters are also drinking Mochas, flat whites and Americanos that are different from the coffee experience they used to have.
However, Argentinians have long been embracing the coffee culture; the tradition itself has become a unique flavor of its own.
“I think I like the traditional local cafeterias,” said Luciano. “I think the local cafeterias have that flavor, as you can tell it is very porteños — a word Argentines use to describe a very Buenos Aires thing,” Luciano said.
A quick guide to ordering:
café solos – small black coffees/ espresso
cortados – small espresso coffees with milk
café con leches – larger coffees with milk
And, there is the “submarino,” which means submarine in Spanish, consisting of a bar of dark chocolate slowly melts inside a glass of hot milk.