When I first told my friends I was moving to Colombia, one of the first things they said was, “You’ll have to tell me how the coffee tastes!” Well, in the past three months, I have sipped many a tinto and an occasional capuchino, and I am here to tell you, disappointedly, that the coffee culture of Bogotá is not what I thought it would be. Just as I did in my analysis of Paris’s coffee culture, I will explain as much as I can about my new city’s customs—everything from the drinks to the vendors to the traditions.
First, the drink names:
- tinto = very strong brewed coffee (8 ounces. This is basically your typical American coffee, only mucho más fuerte. It is served with two packets of sugar and, occasionally, a complimentary cookie on the side.)
- capuchino = a shot of espresso with steamed whole milk and foam (8-12 ounces. Sometimes it is served like a true cappuccino with a mountain of airy foam, but, more often than not, it is served like a latte or café con leche.)
- mocachino = a shot of espresso or tinto mixed with chocolate caliente (8-12 ounces. Unlike an American mocha, which is made with chocolate syrup, a Colombian mocachino combines espresso with their trademark hot chocolate drink. Strong coffee + whole milk + pure chocolate + panela + foam = bliss.)
Unlike French cafés, noisettes, or café crèmes—which remain fairly consistent in price and quality across Paris’s twenty arrondissements—Colombian tintos vary drastically depending on the neighborhood and grade of shop. On the street or in local convenient stores, for example, you can buy a tinto for as cheap as COP$400 (about US$0.20). Of course, said tinto was probably brewed hours ago, and you are basically paying to have it microwaved. In medium-grade bakeries, you can get a tinto for a reasonable COP$1000 (about US$0.50), or, if you are feeling fancy (as I often am on the weekends), you can find a capuchino for COP$2500 (about US$1.25). Only the nicest or the most corporate of coffee shops will prepare a mocachino, which you can buy for 5000 pesos (about US$2.50).
Now, don’t get me wrong; the coffee is good. The coffee is not the disappointing part.
Much like America’s dependency on Starbucks, Colombia’s coffee culture relies on the “express” business model. Whether you plan to sit inside a shop or take your caffeine on the road, you coffee is served in a paper or plastic cup. This is true for most street carts, convenience stores, bakeries, and Juan Valdez locations. (Starbucks : America :: Juan Valdez : Colombia) At the poshest of coffee shops, you might—might!—be able to secure a hurricane glass or, if you are especially lucky, a much-coveted white mug.
Colombia’s “religious” aspect of coffee drinking lies in the ritual. Every morning at ten, Nelsie (one of our two office assistants) brings a tiny tinto-filled mug to everyone’s desk. After lunch, if she is not particularly busy, she does the same. (If she is busy, the afternoon coffee is self-serve.) Additionally, any time a client or a representative visits, she brews a fresh pot. The smell of fresh coffee grounds fills the office, and all is right in this oft overcast city.
[photo courtesy of ???]