Time was, the only coffee one could find in Mexico was Nescafe. This is freeze-dried granules of something that once was not-so-great coffee put into jars and centered on Mexican breakfast tables with the salt, the pepper and the salsa. When you asked for cafe, the server would bring you a cup of boiling water and you would add a couple of tablespoons of this stuff to the water. To paraphrase Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it rendered a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike coffee.
And that was it!
If you were coffee-at-eight-AM fiend, it was a personal purgatory wandering the streets of San Miguel finding coffee. Heck, most ‘cafes’ didn’t open til ten!
Luckily for us arabica-philes, times have gotten as exciting as a double espresso with a twist of lemon. Many places offer quality coffee (and yes, we whisper, there is a Starbucks right on the Jardin), but some of the old guard remains so here is a primer on how coffee lives in San Miguel.
The coffee you know and love dripping through the filter is called cafe en grano. If you ask for it at the restaurant they will let you know if they do that. It’s granulated coffee, and most times it is domestic. Mexico has a robust coffee-growing industry, though the coffee tends not to be as robust as say, Columbian. In nicer places they will offer a richer variety of coffees. And if you are absolutely beyond help in your addiction, the bigger markets have a foreign section where you can buy imported coffee for a price.
If you know that cafe de olla means ‘pot coffee,’ and expect a pot of regular coffee, prepare to be slightly startled when they bring you a clay pot steaming with sweet black coffee and cinnamon. This is how coffee-drinking Mexicans traditional have it. On a cold morning it serves as a fine waker/warmer upper, however some visitors can’t get past the cinnamon. It is interesting to watch as the coffee is prepared like a soup in a big stew pot where they stir in the coffee, cinnamon and the brown sugar-like piloncillo.
For heading out and sitting down for a good cup, make sure to ask when arriving if they serve cafe Americano – this is the stuff you’re used to.
Enjoy La Parroquia (the restaurant, not the church, Jesus 11), Ten Ten Pie (behind the church), and the fun Cafe San Augustin (San Francisco 21) – famous for its hot chocolate and churros, but their coffee is pretty good too.
Down on the Ancho there are a couple of pleasing options – the hip, unassuming Cafe Oso Azul (The Blue Bear Cafe, Zacateros 17) has good coffee and croissants, along with other breakfast options. A couple blocks up is the intriguing Zenteno Cafe (Hernandez Macias 136). The owners, from the coffee-producing area in the mountains of Vera Cruz, offer different types of coffees, teas, and lucious pastries.