Argentina: a country of coffee drinkers

"Coffee is a fleeting moment and a fragrance." --Claudia Roden

"It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old water-proof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write." -Ernest Hemingway

"Coffee falls into the stomach...ideas begin to move, things remembered arrive at full gallop... the shafts of wit start up like sharp-shooters, similies arise, the paper is covered with ink..." - Honore de Balzac

Cafes are an intrinsic part of every day life in Buenos Aires . Portenos -as the people who live in this portside city is known as- feel cafes are almost like an extension of their home, study or work environment. Probably some of the best poems, songs, paintings, business plans, romances and break-ups have had a Buenos Aires Cafe as their main stage. Modern or Classic, hip or traditional, shaggy or well staged, the option is as broad as one can imagine.

This is a two century old tradition that started with the flows of European Immigrants. Those origin old continent marks can be traced in our cafes. For example, the great pleasure taken in small strong cups of espresso coffee is without a doubt Italian origin. While the Spanish input can be found in the variety of snack like appetizers known in the Peninsula as Tapas and in Buenos Aires as picada (literally meaning chopped, for it consists in small plates of cold cuts, cheese, veggies, etc) or tablita (because it was sually served in a wooden cutting board). As to the other influence, I think France is the place; for no other country in the planet worships cafes as a philosophical round table scenario as French and Argentines do. The combination of those influences together with the very sense of Argentines and portenos created a particular cafe culture that's typical of our capital city.

Visitors from around the globe when visiting Buenos Aires usually delight themselves with great food, but the last place they think that might raise some eyebrows is a cafe, but it happens. After the perfect grilled Argentine steak, the most delicious pasta dish and superb ice cream, the culinary surprises brought by the argentine palate might seem covered. But you haven't tried Buenos Aires flavour until you enjoy an espresso and a tostado. The consistency and rich flavor beheld in the small cup complements perfectly crispy thin bread layers mixed with just a perfect slice of ham and cheese. Within its simplicity this true Argentine combo is a treat to the senses.

Each quarter in the city has its own trademark cafe, some even more than one. Each features a unique and personal style, the conjunction of ambiance and public, those steady customers that regularly come, sit on the same table and have become part of the cafe's spirit. And such is the love and care Argentines have for those coffee houses that the government has come with a cultural patrimony project that preserves those historical and cultural icon places under the concept of Notable Cafés. There are 53 in the city of Buenos Aires , but the list broadens constantly. Cafe Tortoni, La Giralda, 36 Billiards, La Biela, La Ideal and Las Violetas are just some.

Just a peek into the cafe world of Buenos Aires takes us to Café Tortoni on Mayo Av. Founded in 1858, is the oldest and most famous cafe in Argentina . Known for being a place that was immortalized by Argentine and world wide artists, writers, poets, musicians, this is not only a great café, but also a living like museum. Alfonsina Storni, a poet, Benito Quinquela Martin, a painter, Baldomero Fernandez Moreno, a poet Carlos Gardel, the tango legend; Federico Garcia Lorca, the Spanish poet and playwright; Luigi Pirandello, the Italian dramatist, and Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine poet, critic and short-story writer, were some of the bright minds who frequented this gorgeous French style coffe house. Its green marble tables and red leather arm chairs welcome locals and foreigners, famous and anonymous equally for a wonderful experience.

La Giralda, on the worldly famous bookstore avenue of Corrientes is an intellectual hangout, and it has been for decades now. Simple, nice and exuding a lost sophistication that has mutated into a bohemian feel, its marble tables and wooden chairs have witnessed some of the brightest and most stupid intellectual discussions ever taken place in the city. Serving what to me are the best churros(fritters) and hot chocolate in town, the best picture perfect scenario is a cold winter afternoon at La Giralda enjoying fritters and hot coco after a walk along Corrientes for old great masters books.

36 Billiards is a true Billiard house on Mayo Av. This traditional Asturian house were picadas and tablitas, drinks and coffee are the greatest option, is also the best place for billiard lovers or curious interested ones. On the Upper North side of the city, in Recoleta, La Biela is the aristocratic cafe par excellence, in front of France Park , this has been the house and office extension for the sophisticated and luxury like upper Argentine class. La Ideal in downtown BA is not only a traditional cafe but it's the best place for traditional tango experiences. Just ask Madonna, she danced there for her musical film Evita and fell deeply in love with the place, the feel and the atmosphere. Located in the middle class barrio of Almagro, Cafe las Violetas was recently restored to its original splendor and once again serves as the epicenter of barrio life. 

Buenos Aires is so intensely rich in culture and tradition that has raised a strong popular awareness of conservation and love for what makes us be distinctly us. The tradition of cafes is not just about a cup of coffee that can be taken to go or bought elsewhere, it's about the history and stories you go building and creating in that special place of yours. Cafés are deep cultural bonds traced between cups of coffee, great conversations, tough personal moments and joyful times that are unique and precious, part of our meaningful moments in life.

One of the most vivid poems regarding Café drama is "Dejeuner du matin" by Jacques Prevert. Here a link to the poem with an English translation .

** Note:  The original information for this thread came from the following forum thread: