Porteños, as locals are called, like to get together with friends to have leisurely discussions ranging from the whys and wherefores of life to their beloved football team, the course of the economy (always in some sort of crisis or another), or their amorous escapades in excruciating detail (they are, after all, of Latin descent, and, let’s face it, men like bragging).
Cafes are not only a rendezvous for friends: job interviews and work-related meetings also take place in them. Even love affairs begin and end over steaming cappuccinos.
Cafes are quite busy early in the morning, when office workers stop by for a breakfast of the national combo: “cafe con leche y medialunas” (white coffee with croissants) or a “tostado mixto” (a ham and cheese toasty). The morning paper is usually provided as well. It can safely be said that a cafe is an extension of home and office.
Cafes play such a key role in popular culture too that even songs have been dedicated to them, especially tangos. Twenty years or so ago, there was a hugely popular and long-running TV show about a group of friends that met in a cafe every week. Does it ring any bells?
Thanks to the influence of Italian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century coffee is always espresso; filter coffee is sacrilege in these latitudes. A very few places offer “cafe americano,” as filter coffee is called here, but it doesn’t seem to be very popular. It is served in “pocillos” (demitasses) or “jarritos” (stemmed glass cups with a handle.)
Patrons can choose between “café,” “café doble” (a large coffee), “café con crema” (coffee with a dollop of whipped cream), “cortado” (three quarters coffee, a quarter milk), “lágrima” (a quarter coffee, three quarters milk), “capuchino” (coffee, a drop or two of milk, milk froth) and “cafe con leche” (cafe au lait.) The price generally includes a small glass of soda water (maybe orange juice in more upscale places) and a small sweet treat, like a cookie.
The social and cultural influence of cafes is such that fifty-three of the oldest establishments have been declared part of the cultural and historical heritage of the city of Buenos Aires. Many of them were founded by Italian and Spanish immigrants in the early 20th century. Cafe Tortoni (Avenida de Mayo 825), perhaps the most popular with tourists; and Confiteria Ideal (Suipacha 384) are just two of them.
Wood panelling, brass fixtures, marble tops, and tango music playing softly in the background conspire to take one back to a bygone era when artists, writers, musicians and intellectuals met to discuss ideas over (what else?) endless cups of this sexy dark beverage.
A warm welcome to Ana, who is going to be writing about Argentinian culture on PocketCultures. Ana was born and raised in Argentina, and she keeps close links with her country, despite being currently based abroad. You can read more about Ana’s experiences living abroad on her blog.
About the authorAna