Size does matter … when you’re talking about java

With all the recent BREWhaha about the “anti-Christmas” Starbucks cups, I thought I’d focus this next post on the coffee culture in Buenos Aires.

On our first trip to Buenos Aires about seven years ago I remember there being only one Starbucks nestled obscurely in Palermo. On subsequent visits, we’ve noticed a handful more. Today, there is a smattering of the green signs around the city. They are found mostly in areas heavily frequented by tourist who are comforted by the familiar and willing to fork over more than double the price of coffee in the thriving local cafes. However, there are fewer Starbucks in BA than in five square kilometres of any larger city in North America.


Two rare tables outside. Quick, come join us.

Despite not having many Starbucks, the coffee culture, or I should say cafe culture, is alive and well. As luck would have it, we have a small, independent cafe on the ground floor of our apartment – muy muy convenient. There are a handful of other cafes within two blocks in each direction. Most are independents, but we’ve seen one or two local chains throughout the city. Where possible, these local cafes set up tables outside along the sidewalk.

I guarantee that no one here, in this prominently Christian country, is talking about plain, red, paper cups. In fact, what they are likely to find offensive is the use of paper cups at all. You see, drinking coffee here is an activity, it’s a social opportunity, to be enjoyed – not rushed, it’s certainly not something to be guzzled down as you scurry along the sidewalk. Even the Starbucks ‘tall’ serving is enormous compared to the serving of coffee ordered in a cafe here. “Vente” is obscene.

Whether sitting at a table reading the paper, studying or having an animated conversation with friends, sipping coffee happens out of small, white ceramic cups accompanied by one or two small, sweet crescent rolls (medialunas) on the side. And as with most places that offer table service, there is no sense of rushing you out the door: you only get your bill if you’re able to flag down your server to specifically ask for it.

Who would have thought that coffee could be so refreshing?

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