December 14, 2017

With BA’s baristas, there’s more than just umbrella water in this city

Sunday, March 16, 2014

For the love of coffee

Baristas show off their skills at the LATTEnTE coffee house in Palermo.
Baristas show off their skills at the LATTEnTE coffee house in Palermo.
Baristas show off their skills at the LATTEnTE coffee house in Palermo.
By Jayson McNamara
Herald Staff

What might a Colombian from the world-famous eje cafetero, a pair of entrepreneurs who met at university in Russia, and the Indonesian ambassador to Argentina have in common?

Well, to start with, they all seem to love well-prepared coffee in a city where the average brew tastes more like umbrella water — to use an Argentine term — than a typically glorious cup of that flavoursome bean loved the world over.

They also seem to share the same stopping-ground: the LATTEnTE coffee house in the Palermo neighbourhood, one of just a handful of coffee-drinking pools in Buenos Aires where you’ll find qualified or in-training baristas frothing up a storm.

Just last weekend, the store attempted to take coffee to the people of Buenos Aires — where Italian blood apparently doesn’t run quite as thick as 100 percent Arabica — with an action-packed event that mixed latte art with fundraising.

Sixteen baristas from seven different countries battled it out for a title that saw a combination of broken hearts and tightly poured tulips, auctioning them off to round up almost 4,000 pesos for the “Food For Thought” nutrition programme operating out of Monte Chingolo in Lanús. The winning cup alone sold for almost 200 pesos.

Founder of the Social Opportunity Group behind the nutrition project, Kiwi-born Ben Whitaker — who also happens to be a barista himself — says he was “chuffed” with the event and hopes it might contribute to bigger and better things in the world of local coffee.

“Saturday was a big success for all of us: we spread the word of our organization and we raised some good money to pay for meals for children,” he tells the Herald. “It also raised the profile of the growing coffee culture here in Buenos Aires. We couldn’t be happier.”

Claudia Diaz one of the baristas who competed with Ben recalls her surprise at learning about a whole other side to the sweet aromas of her hometown Pereira in Colombia’s coffee-growing axis.

“I had no knowledge of coffee even though I’m from, of all places, Pereira,” she says. “But I’ve gotten pretty good now at distinguishing between the different flavours, which are based on things like the weather. If it’s sunny, we’ll change the way we prepare your cup; if it’s raining, there’s a whole other preparation.”

Whatever Claudia and her colleagues are doing seems to be working, with a full house of regular customers whose excitement about the event and the top-notch coffee being served seemed palpable.

“I’m a regular customer. It’s the best coffee in the city,” Indonesia’s Ambassador to Argentina, Dr Nurmala Kartini Sjahrir, told the Herald. “I’ve even been trying to get the embassy staff to make it over this way.”

What’s in a cup?

A compatriot of the ambassador, Zehan Nurhadzar from Jakarta is one of the founders of LATTEnTE.

She met Colombian Daniel Cifuentes Diaz at university in Russia, and after a slow start in Recoleta, they ended up opening a barista-style coffee store in the heart of Palermo Soho, where they’ve firmly found their place in the city’s niche barista business.

“The coffee you’re drinking takes a lot of work,” Zehan points out, with one of her own never far from sight. “The process is integral, from the selection of green coffee beans right through to roasting, grinding and the temperature of the milk.”

They use 100 percent Arabica instead of a Robusta blend, she says, which is a cheaper bean that’s popular among the city’s peso-saving coffee retailers.

And while her prices are competitive, costing a handful of pesos more than the average BA cup, Zehan says the more rigorous preparation of their blends, including ristretto, macchiato and flat white, is worth the effort.

“Most of our clients, around 70 percent, always come back. Many say they can’t drink other people’s coffee anymore,” she says. “That’s the best compliment you can get.”

You can find barista-style coffee at these places in BA: LATTEnTE on Thames 1891, Palermo Soho; Full City Coffee House on Thames 1535, Palermo Soho; and Coffee Town on Bolivar 976, inside the San Telmo markets.


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