Gran Café Tortoni

I’ve never owned or bought a coffee machine, but my apartment in Buenos Aires came equipped with one so I’ve actually been brewing and drinking coffee here.  I haven’t found any good ground coffee (curiously they sell coffee that’s been ground WITH sugar and I had to look for one that’s libre de azucar) but I’m enjoying the toasty smell of java in the morning.  As a non-coffee drinker, I know very little about coffee.  What I do know, however, is that there is a big coffee culture here in Buenos Aires.  One can find a café on every street corner and see people sitting there with friends or alone, smoking, reading, lounging, nibbling, and drinking all day.  What you NEVER see are people walking down the street with a cup of coffee.  I had one local comment to me “How American!” that is.

There are 57 historical cafés in Buenos Aires (bares notables) designated by the city.  Arguably the most famous historical café is Gran Café Tortoni, which celebrated its 150 years in 2008.  Two weeks ago I had a chance to spend an afternoon there while walking around in that part of town.  It was full of tourists (me and my friends included) and everything was predictably expensive, but I suppose it had to be done.

Opened at a different location by a French immigrant in 1858, its fame stems not only for its longevity but for the literary and intellectual figures who frequented the place.  Among them were José Ortega y Gasset, Jorge Luis Borges, Molina Campos, and visitors from overseas, Albert Einstein, Federico García Lorca, and Hillary Clinton, etc

It’s a very grand and elegant café, with mahogany walls, marble floors, stained glass ceilings, and low hanging chandeliers.  At night, I’m told you can watch tango dancing.  I took some terrible interior shots… oh well.

I wanted to have something very Argentinian that wasn’t caffeinated (caffeine after 2PM means no sleep for me), so I got a submarine!  Submarino is a cup of hot milk and a piece of chocolate.  You drop the chocolate into the milk and stir to make your own hot chocolate.  At Café Tortoni the chocolate they give you actually looks like a submarine.

Besides a submarino here is a short list of what I can get at a café in Buenos Aires:

Café: a shot of espresso, a short black.  You can also say you want a “café chico.”

Cortado: macchiato.  It’s an espresso that’s “cut” with a bit of milk.  If/when I drink coffee, this is what I order.

Café con Leche: it’s basically a latte, more or less half milk and half coffee.  I don’t know if the locals order this in the afternoon.

Capuchino: cappuccino.  Unlike in Italy, I’ve seen people order this in the afternoon here and receive it in a tall clear glass.

Jarrito: a double shot of espresso, a tall black.  Definitely not something my body can handle.

Lágrima: I like the name; it’s mostly milk with a drop (a tear) of espresso.


Gran Café Tortoni: Avenida de Mayo 825, Centro, Buenos Aires

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2 Responses to Gran Café Tortoni

  1. making your own coffee here is frustrating – I import my beans from home for that reason. But I admit, I love the coffee culture in BA – it’s fantastic! I can’t believe I’ve still never tried a submarino … it’s been on my list for a very long time! I’ll have to save it for somewhere good like Tortoni. Great post.

    • dreamgolive says:

      ah ha! I thought I was totally missing something.. that I couldn’t find any good coffee to make at home. Isn’t it weird that there isn’t anything better? I would even settle for a pound of Dunkin Donuts’!

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