Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hay Café, o Solo Nescafé?

A good cup of coffee in Mexico, a tantalizing possibility that rarely becomes a reality. Mexico produces great coffee but ask for a cup in most places in Mexico and you'll get a cup of hot water and a jar of Nescafe! In the past, the best bet was a steaming cup of Cafe de Olla. Pretty good stuff, if you want a dark and sweet treat.

We were, therefore, hoping for the best but expecting the worst when we got to Mexico. Things didn't improve when we arrived in Guadalajara. We quickly understood that Mexico is in the throes of cappuccino mania! Everyone from middle-school kids to dowdy matrons were ordering them like they were manna from heaven. We were reluctant to try, since a good cappuccino is hard to come by anywhere; then we saw that most were made by pressing a button on a Greyhound terminal style machine, eww!

When we got to Guanajuato, we didn't expect to find anything better. Wow, we were wrong. Though it is a smaller city, it has a much more cosmopolitan sense. Why? It could be because of the university in town, as well as the annual influx of foreign (mostly European) tourists that come in every year for the Festival Cervantino. Right off the bat, we found Cafe Conquistador. It is literally a hole in the wall. I took the picture below from the entrance. It is basically the roaster you see above, a stack of bags full of raw beans and a counter where the beans are ground and the drinks made. Their coffee is all organic beans from Coatepec in Veracruz Mexico.


We found the coffee to be an amazing departure from everything we had tasted up until then. Fresh, strong and very drinkable. OMG was it hot, though! I felt like Kramer with a latte down his pants. In fact we noticed almost everywhere in Mexico that the coffee was boiling, not a bad thing. When life is slower and you have time to let it cool a bit, it's great.

Guanajuato is a great walking city, not that you have any other choice. All callejones and narrow stairways. One place we really enjoyed, more for the location and vibe than for the coffee was Santo Cafe. In the picture below, it is up the street on the right, (yes, that is considered a street) than over the "bridge" with the blue umbrellas. The place has good coffee as well as some interesting desserts and appetizers.


One place I have to mention, not so much for the coffee, though I hear it's great, is Cafe El Truco 7. Good food and ambiance, but most importantly, it's a great place to lose any stray dogs that you might have picked up. Of course there's a whole story behind that, but suffice to say that El Truco is central, open late and just a great cafe.

Last in Guanajuato, was Cafe Tal. Now, they have GREAT coffee. Also specializing in coffee of Mexico, they roast their own beans and have a wonderfully pared-down coffeecentric feel. Wonderful little space that you enter on the second floor, (which is at ground level) and walk down the stairs to the first floor. Guanajuato tends to remind you of an M.C.Escher print; all up-and-down but ending up in the same place! People come to Cafe Tal to buy great freshly roasted beans by the kilo or an americano y un cuerno (croissant). The staff is friendly and very accommodating, this is the perfect place to spend some time filling a notebook or penning postales (BTW don't expect your post cards to make it to the US).

Our next city was Morelia. A gorgeous colonial city in Michoacan. Downtown is one beautiful checkerboard, punctuated by baroque churches, plazas, palaces and the university buildings. This is where we stumbled onto what seems to be Mexico's answer to the Starbucks Empire. Finca Santa Veracruz has approximately 50 stores in Mexico, most centered in Mexico City. They manage the entire process from planting and growing on their own finca in Coatepec, Veracruz to roasting and grinding. The cafes are set-up as franchises and strictly controlled. We found the coffee to be MUCH better than most US coffee shops' coffee, though not as flavorful as what we found in Cafe Tal. I think they might have a winner here. Sorry, no pictures of this coffee shop, just the Catedral.

All in all, there is hope for Mexico on the coffee front. People are being exposed to higher quality ingredients and demanding more. There are indications that there is a greater appreciation and pride in the more local coffees. We saw shops featuring coffee from Oaxaca as well as Chiapas and Veracruz. I'm sure next time we go, it will be a lot easier to find great coffee.

Nescafe anyone?

1 comment:

Cristina said...

Too bad I didn't know you'd be in Morelia...we could have had coffee!

And I lived in Guadalajara for several years before I moved to Morelia...

You might want to post a link to my blog: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com.