One of the most common gripes I hear among many expats here is “what’s the deal with the coffee in Chile?”…as in, it is often Nescafe or a watered down espresso. Yes, in the past it may have been slightly subpar but that all is changing–quite quickly. Today, while chains like Starbucks and Juan Valdez are cloning across town, my search for the best coffee comes from an appreciation and love for the taste, much like good wine. After our trip to Italy in November, where we spent many an afternoon in a coffee bar sipping concentrated ristrettos and machiattos, I knew I would never look at this humble bebida, beverage, the same way. I came back on a quest to find the best of its kind in Santiago.
First and foremost, let me disclose something about my coffee taste to make sure we’re on the same page. I am an espresso girl to the core. I do not like, nor drink, liters of the watery stuff like my family lives on in the US and makes with a percolator. I do not believe in taking “coffee to go”. The whole point is to sit down and savor each sip and take a moment to share, write, appreciate, meditate. As such, I am looking for the equivalent of an amazing, concentrated chocolate or Bordeaux in the coffee world. I also do NOT love caffeine even though I adore the taste. I do not seek it, nor want it, in the morning to get going. If I have it too late in the day, it gets me all wired and makes it hard to sleep at night, upsetting my bed time and morning gym ritual—not cool. So I am a connoisseur, not an addict. I am a purist about my coffee too—it should be deep in flavor, balanced yet bold, not too roasted (sorry Starbucks, those beans are burnt!), and never ever bitter. I typically do not adulterate with milk unless needing a macchiato and see the use sugar or sweetener as sacrilege, like dropping an ice cup in a great wine. The whole point is that flavor intensity and taking the edge off it with sugar…why?!
Here is the round up, my friends, of my three favorite places in Santiago I haunt frequently for coffee. They are all quite different in terms of style, onda (vibe), and food served. All are places ideal for business meetings or any old excuse to get out for a break any time of the day.
Colmado Coffee & Bakery
Merced 346, Interior Patio, Santiago, Centro. Wed-Mon 9am-9pm, Tuesdays closed.
A wonderful new addition to the Lastarria/Bellas Artes manned by Catalan chef Manolo Aznar, these folks know their coffee. At any time of day, they have seven special ways to prepare your brew—beyond the traditional espresso and macchiato served in most cafes. For example, try coffee from the siphon for perfumed, soft coffee, or delicious French press, or the chemex. Besides serving up carefully selected Peruvian and Colombian brews, all perfectly toasted, they also craft delicious gourmet sandwiches with artisan breads that change on a rotating basis. How about a croissant stuffed with chicken, arugula, pickles and kimchi mayo or their sinful éclairs stuffed with sheep’s milk ricotta from Patagonia and 55% dark chocolate on the top? Umm, yes please! On the weekends, they also put on a proper brunch and even serve proper paella in a nod to the madre patria. Do not miss. You will become, quickly, a repeat customer.
Lastarria 90, Santiago, Centro. Mon – Fri 8:30am-9:30pm; Sat-Sun 10:30am-9:30pm.
This handsome café on Lastarria is now a reference point for good coffee and eats in the neighborhood. Hip, young, and delicious, the space is luminous with tall ceilings and the bar has a sky blue Marzocco espresso machine from where the latte art is made. By all means, order a cappuccino and be delighted. They even have imported (sugar free) soy milk for non-dairy alternatives. For all you non-coffee drinkers (sniff, sniff), they have a fabulous list of teas and the mango lassis laced with cardamom which are addictive. At lunch, they serve up sandwiches and fresh salads but the sweets are memorable. Gooey, sticky, yummy cakes like passion fruit merengue pie, flourless chocolate tart, homemade macaroons. Forget about calories, order your sweet, caffeine of choice, and enjoy.
Andres Bello 2177, Providencia. Mon – Fri 8am-8pm; Sat 10am-2pm.
This Italian-style espresso bar is cleverly tucked away from the corner of Andres Bello and Nueva Lyon, only steps away from pulsating Providencia. The Argentine owners know their stuff. They are purists about how they pull their shots. Their single, simple espresso, served in a glass shot is quite possibly the best I have had in Chile. I also love that they are now offering up their latte and macchiato cold (perfect for summer) and with lactose-free milk or almond milk versions for those who cannot tolerate dairy. To accompany your sip from coffee heaven, they always have homemade organic brownies on hand, artisan alfajores, and delectable macaroons in addition to lunchtime fare. It’s a quiet environment to write, get work done, have a meeting, and linger over the coffee. It still also feels slightly under discovered—but not for long!