Coffee Is Steeped In Tradition Across Latin America, Here Is How Each Country Brews The Perfect Cup

Culture

Coffee Is Steeped In Tradition Across Latin America, Here Is How Each Country Brews The Perfect Cup

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OK, so we’re in like Week 12 of lockdown and some of us may have taken up new hobbies and interests to help pass the time. For me, that’s been getting to know a good cup of home-brewed coffee. Plus, the draw of a warm, delicious cup of coffee can definitely help you get your day started with that often much-needed shot of caffeine.

Many coffee experts agree, that now is the time to familiarize yourself with all the traditional coffee methods from around Latin America and figure out which one you like best.

Latin America is one of the biggest producers of coffee beans, but surprisingly, coffee isn’t a big part of life here, with the exception of Cuba, Brazil, and Argentina. But those who do enjoy their coffee, have a wide array of traditions when it comes to preparing that perfect cup.

Like the millions of people and cultures of the world, coffee too has its own variations and traditions surrounding it. Here is a glimpse of how it is prepared and consumed in different ways all over the planet.

Argentina

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Maté may be the official national beverage, but coffee drinking is a refined, lingering art in Argentina’s cafes.

The country’s capital, Buenos Aires, has always been Latin America’s coffee capital and long before any neighboring nation even knew of the existence of a ‘latte’, Porteños were sipping macchiatos (called lagrimas) and café con leche like it was nobody’s business. The city has always offered the best coffee in the entire continent – mostly due to its influx of Italian immigrants who brought with them the traditional techniques of coffee brewing.

Brazil

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Unlike much of South America, coffee is very popular in Brazil, with many Brazilians preferring a cafezinho – a strong and very sweet coffee. And it kinda makes sense considering Brazil is the world’s largest producer of the stuff.

Coffee is consumed all through the day, in dainty little cups, with or without meals. Coffee added to a glass of milk is often served for breakfast to kids as young as 10 years old. Though American-style coffee culture and drinks are gaining popularity, walking while eating or drinking is a strict no-no in Brazil

Colombia

Colombia, known for its great, versatile coffee beans, likes its coffee black with lots of sugar, in small cups. It’s known as tinto and it will leave you awake for days…

Colombia’s coffee culture only recently got off the ground. Prior to 2003, the country’s best beans were only exported and Colombians only had access to the leftover beans. But this has changed and coffee culture is a huge part of Colombian identity.

Cuba

Cuba may be best known for the cafecito – or Cafe Cubano. This very strong drink is a type of espresso coffee that first developed in Cuba after Italians arrived in the country.

The Cafecito beverage is made by sweetening a shot with Demerara sugar, during the coffee brewing process. There are variations on the method including a variety of recipes. The Demerara sugar is traditionally added into the glass into which the espresso will drip so the sugar and espresso mix during brewing which is said to create a unique and smooth quality.

Guatemala

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Guatemalans aren’t huge consumers of coffee. And those who do drink coffee tend to drink it as much of the world does – as a latte or shot of espresso.

However, Guatemala is revered for its superior quality and complexity of flavors. It’s a step above the rest, because many coffee fincas (plantations) still harvest beans in the most traditional of ways. The nation’s highlands are where you’ll want to head and – luckily for you – where you can experience the country’s long-held passion for coffee and discover some of the most magnificent landscapes in the entire continent. The most popular region for coffee lovers to visit is Lake Atitlan, a spectacular area framed by three volcanoes.

Mexico

In Mexico, coffee is often brewed with cinnamon and sugar. The cinnamon and sugar aren’t merely added to the coffee after brewing, but they’re incorporated right into the brewing technique. The result is a coffee that’s at the same time sweet and spicy. 

Cafe de Olla is the national coffee drink and it varies from state to state but it’s definitely a must to try if visiting the county. But it’s also easy to make at home!

Venezuela

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At one point, Venezuela rivaled Colombia in terms of its coffee production. However, those days are long gone and now the country produces less than 1% of the world’s coffee (since 2001). Although some Venezuelan coffee is exported, the vast majority is consumed by the Venezuelans themselves. 

Venezuela’s most renowned coffees are known as Maracaibos. They are named after the port through which they are shipped, close to Colombia. The coffee grown in the eastern mountains is called Caracas, named after the country’s capital. 

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Here’s The History Behind One Of Mexico’s Most Iconic Drinks, Café De Olla

Culture

Here’s The History Behind One Of Mexico’s Most Iconic Drinks, Café De Olla

Javier Rojas / mitú

The smell of roasted cinnamon sticks wakes up Vanessa Ortiz on most mornings. Or sometimes it’s the whiff of the roasted cacao beans coming from the kitchen. The scents are the product of her mother brewing up her daily cup of café de olla. 

“The smell of it is just so inviting and it makes me think of Mexico,” Ortiz, 20, says as she takes in a sip herself. “For as long as I can remember café de olla has been part of my life.”

Ortiz, who grew up in East Los Angeles, is one of many Latinos that feel a sense of nostalgia, or in her case, pride when it comes to café de olla. That may be due to the drink being passed on from generation to generation. Or maybe it’s the story behind the drink that is steeped deep in Mexican history. But what many might not know is that women played a central role in the creation of café de olla.

The drink’s origin dates back to the 1800s during the Mexican Revolution where women made their mark on the frontlines. 

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Those who participated in the war efforts were called Adelitas, named after Adela Velarde Pérez, a nurse from Ciudad Juarez. She would become a central figure in how women were viewed during the Mexican Revolution due to her part in helping injured soldiers. Pérez led the way for other women at war to be recognized for the contributions, one of the biggest being café de olla. 

The roles women played during the war weren’t easy. They had to carry soldiers’ bags, set up and broke down camps, and take care of all the food. It was at these war camps during the Mexican Revolution that café de olla was born. 

To keep up the stamina of these soldiers, the adelitas created a blend of spices, coffee, and sugar in giant clay pots which they would then hand out to all the soldiers for an energy boost throughout the long war. This blend of coffee would be called café de olla, literally meaning “coffee from a clay pot.”

Chuy Tovar, 50, the owner of Primera Taza, a popular coffee spot in East Los Angeles, says that the adelitas don’t get enough credit for the impact they had behind the scenes of the war.

Credit: Javier Rojas

“Without women there wouldn’t even be café de olla,” Tovar says. “These women played a huge role in those days and their influence was on the battlefield as well as in the café de olla that helped fuel soldiers. The women not only prepared the food but they also fought on the lines.”

“How the hell they did that? I have no clue.”

It was in areas like the port of Veracruz where coffee first made one of its first appearances in Mexico and little by little coffee plantations emerged, mainly in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Veracruz. This played a huge role in the growth of the drink throughout the country with women in those communities all having their own unique take on café de olla. 

Tovar says it was a collective combination of various indigenous communities coming together that all had their input on the drink. Whether it was the piloncillo or the cacao beans used in the drink, there’s influence seen from different states throughout Mexico. 

While the details of who made the final decisions on what ingredients would go into café de olla are still up in the air, Tovar says they knew they had to put a stimulant that would have caffeine to fuel soldiers for the day. 

He believes the drink was made as a “precautionary beverage” that was made with a medicinal purpose to help with hunger and supply nutrients for soldiers. He said a typical lunch would include beans and a cup of café de olla. 

“It was something to suppress their hunger during the day. I think the ingredients were well thought out for its time,” Tovar said. “These women are heroes for many reasons but they’ve no doubt created a drink that’s still being enjoyed to this day.”

Today, café de olla is seeing a revival. Whether that may be due to more people connecting with their roots or just the expansion of different coffees, there’s excitement brewing.  

Credit: Javier Rojas

Café de olla is seeing somewhat of a resurgence. Many coffee shops are taking notice and putting their own spin on the drink, particularly in southern California. La Monarca, an artisanal Mexican bakery located throughout Los Angeles, is one of the biggest drivers leading this café de olla revival. The drink has become one of it’s best selling items which may be due to its effort to stay true to the traditional roots of the beverage.

“The recipe was perfected over the years, the brewing process was difficult as subtle differences in the ratio of spice to coffee and sugar created variability in taste. We settled on high-quality cinnamon sourced from Mexico and developed a cold-brewed recipe for our retail locations. The result is our number one bestseller, both in-store and online,” La Monarca CEO Ricardo Cervantes said. 

For Tovar, whose Boyle Heights coffee shop has moved from different locations over the last few years, he still gets the same customers yearning for a sip of his café de olla. He says the drink has seen a rise in popularity for the last few years and he credits that to people wanting to reconnect with their Latin roots. 

Tovar sources all of his coffee beans from Mexico and that may be why he draws in an older generation from the predominantly Latino neighborhood. He says by showcasing these ingredients he’s getting to share a taste of the quality regional coffee’s that Mexico is known for. 

“I see the young ones come in and ask for an iced café de olla or even extra cinnamon (which he calls “spiced coffee”) but it’s popular and I appreciate it,” Tovar says. “People can connect to their parents or their ancestors just by the smell and that’s special.”

José Rodríguez has his own take on café de olla at his coffee shop, Akat Cafe Kalli, in Lake Merritt, Oakland.

Credit: Javier Rojas

Rodríguez mixes the drink with heavy cinnamon and a light drip of honey. Over the past year, his unique take on café de olla has led to the drink becoming his most popular beverage.

“This formula has worked for me and it’s me trying to be true to the original drink but at the same time have my spin on it,” Rodriguez says. “Café de olla for many of us is a way to connect with our indigenous roots and in reality, it reminds me of my mother.”

Growing up, Rodriguez would usually find his mother in the kitchen and a clay pot would usually be brewing next to her. He’d spend mornings picking her mind about Mexican coffee and learning the craft of making café de olla.

“It doesn’t matter your economic situation or what your political belief is, I could recall countless memories with friends and family and a cup of café de olla would usually be in my hand,” Rodriguez says. “We don’t give enough credit to the women that created this coffee.”

This sentiment is felt for many Latinos who see the drink as a part of their family history that in some ways acts as a bridge to the past. Ortiz can relate to this as she gets emotional when speaking about family memories in the kitchen during Christmas time. She wipes away a tear and recalls one of the few memories she has with her grandmother, who passed away when she was only seven years old. That memory involved her making café de olla from scratch with her, something she never forgets. 

“This drink has a special place in my heart that is hard to describe honestly,” Ortiz says as she sips on a freshly brewed cup of café de olla. “It’s been in my family for generations and hopefully I’ll be passing it on to my kids one day too.” 

READ: Coquito and Crème de Vie: How Are They Different And Where Did They Come From?

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