Coffee in Latin America

After writing about the food in Argentina and Chile, I would like to devote a separate chapter to Argentinean and Chilean coffee. I love coffee, but only in particular preparations. Of course nothing on Earth is better than coffee in Italy. In Peru and Bolivia the coffee is rather disgusting. However once I arrived in Argentina, the land of Italian descendants, the coffee shares started going up! I discovered a coffee chain Havanna offering a truly endless variety of preparations and sampled every article with gusto!

I must say in general that the coffee terminology is turned upside down in every new Latin American country. Sometimes the same term has the opposite meaning within just one country. For example in Puerto Iguazu I described in detail to a lady in the coffee shop that I want the coffee that in Europe is called caffe latte. Finally she got my request and said: well that’s lastima! Lastima worked quite well in Buenos Aires, although produced some hesitation at times. However ordering a lastima in Mendoza resulted in a mini-espresso (very tasty)!!!

(This is true for everything though, not just for coffee. Particularly in Chile and Argentina they have invented an argo vocabulary for everything under the sun, and the Chilean vocabulary has nothing to do with the Argentinean one. In Chile in particular the pronunciation is terrible, the words are not finished, every sentence is interlaced with jargon. With some of my interlocutors, I had to ask them to repeat every sentence. Perhaps though they simply enjoyed exercising their linguistic superiority over a hapless gringo. In Argentina they have invented a whole separate grammar, they decline verbs in a different way. But at the end of the day this is wonderful. Adds a local feeling.)

So in order to avoid linguistic debacles, I often use the old trick “I’ll have what she’s having”. Sometimes I even unobtrusively photograph the item and then point to it on the screen of the iPhone. Otherwise explaining the particular coffee variety you want may take days.

This is what they call capuccino in Argentina. A little cup. Next to it packed in gold is an alfajor, see below. In Argentina they always bring a glass of sparkling water with the coffee – a ­wonderful habit, in my opinion.

Strictly speaking, this is no coffee. But this amazingly tasty item is its neighbour on the menu and it is called sumarino (i.e. submarine). A submarine, a chocolate bar, is put to swim in the glass of hot milk.

And this is what results. Next to it is the opened alfajor. Alfajor is a national sweet of Argentina. It is layered cake covered with chocolate with various fillings. The most popular filling is dulce de leche –a type of boiled condensed milk. Dulce de leche is a national obsession, Argentina’s answer to Nutella, it is added to everything and eaten everywhere. Argentina and Chile in general are nations of pathological sweettooth’s. Can we possibly consider normal what we see in this photo?

I can’t remember the names of the following variations in Havanna. Anyway, worth a try! Tasty variation nr 1.

Tasty variation nr 2.

Moving on to Chile. This is affogato, a cold coffee cocktail.

What they call cafe con leche in Santiago.

In Santiago they also have this fascinating institution called cafe con piernas – ­literally coffee with feet. These cafés appeared in the 50s. The idea was that coffee was served by girls wearing next to nothing – ­showing feet. The male customer was expected to reward this with extraordinary tip. Initially all such cafés were closed from the outside, you could see nothing from the street. Such closed cafés still exist, but most cafés con piernas now are transparent and quite socially acceptable. Also women visit them. Although an analogous café for women (with male waiters) fell through due to a lack of visitors. Still, it seems there exists a gay version.

Interior of a café with typical customers:

The line separating the customer from the server:

A moment of contemplation:

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