When Americans hear Colombia, a few things first come to mind, right? At least a couple of them, unfortunately, are not positive (though I’m trying to change that!). But there is one awesome thing that people often think of: coffee! I’ve gotta say, though, that since arriving in Colombia, my coffee game has been notably…not great. The truth is that all of you back in the North are drinking the good stuff from Colombia. Good coffee, like good bananas, is a major export, and the locals are often left with the lowest quality product*.
There are not many cafes on the coast of Colombia; rather, people find the coffee cart when they want a jolt of caffeine. In my town, there’s one coffee cart that’s usually at the bus stop near my house from about 5-10am, another one or two that are down in the plaza all day. In Barranquilla, coffee vendors roam the streets at all hours of the day with their carts. Here in my town, the carts are actually pretty fancy and well-equipped; in Barranquilla where they want more mobility, they’re typically shopping carts, sometimes even just a wooden tray skillfully carried through the streets. All of them contain various plastic thermoses, topped with different colored rings. Within the thermoses are the different varieties.
Tinto is black coffee. Café con leche is coffee with milk. If you don’t specify sin azúcar (without sugar), it is very likely that what you are served is about 30% sugar and 70% coffee. Sometimes the carts don’t even have this available, and you are forced to buy a packet of instant coffee instead. The larger carts have additional options, such as coffee with cinnamon, or just hot chocolate. Yes, people living in 100 degree weather choose to drink hot chocolate. Whatever you order will come in a tiny (~3 ounces) white plastic cup, but it will also cost you just $500-700 pesos ($0.17-0.23 USD).
I actually have to admit that I was surprised to learn that the coffee in the thermoses wasn’t instant. It’s all my first host family drank, so I just thought that was the norm. I should have known better; my current host mom drinks coffee all day long, and I know more or less how her process works. There’s no traditional-to-us drip coffee machine, or even a press or pour-over method. Rather, a little muslin sack attached to a metal handle is used to patiently steep the coffee in boiling water.
This is a much overdue post that I dedicate to my friend George. In the future, I’ll definitely be posting more about the actual coffee industry, and not just how it’s consumed.
*I have admittedly had some of the best cups of coffee of my life here, but they were always purchased in the city for un montón of pesos