If you are used to your coffee experience being one of necessity, buckle up. In Argentina, to slug down coffee that has been made with TLC is a cultural transgression. You must savor it and take it in with all of your senses. Not just the coffee should be enjoyed, but also the environment in which you find yourself- whether that’s at home with intimate company or out at a neighborhood café. You will find familiar drinks that you can order at an average American café, but often with an unexpected twist. In actuality, it is not a twist but rather a difference in coffee culture.
History and Language
Argentina is probably the most European country in South America. Its capital, Buenos Aires has been called the Paris of South America due to its rich cultural heritage. While it is influenced by French culture in many ways, the linguistic influence is from Italy. Argentinians speak Spanish, and the Italian influence is noticeable, both in vocabulary as well as accent. In comparison to other South American countries which identify more as ‘Latino,’ Argentina has always had strong ties to Europe. As a result, their culture, especially language, is often perceived by their geographical neighbors as highfalutin and hoity-toity.
The reason we mention the linguistic differences is so that you will not rely upon your high school Spanish phrasebook which, though it can be helpful in some fundamentals, will not always give you the correct vocabulary. For example, the person who takes your order at a restaurant, especially a café is called a mozo, not a camarero. Both can mean waiter, but mozo in Argentina carries a sense of a server who is also highly cultured.
What Kind of Coffee Do Argentinians Drink?
Being influenced by Italian immigrants (about 65% of Argentinians have Italian in them), espresso is a huge part of their coffee culture. They also use brewed coffee in combination with other things as well.
Most coffee beverages are accompanied with water by default. You can ask for gas (meaning carbonated seltzer water) or for agua.
How Do You Order Coffee?
First things first. This isn’t a grab-n-go kind of situation. Starbucks only arrived in Argentina in the mid-2000s, and it didn’t take very well at first, although it has gained some traction. This is because Argentinians savor the experience of coffee as a real event, not something that is done in passing.
When you get to the café, you may or may not be escorted to a table. If there are three of you and you are asked by the host, “¿Cuántos?” Tell him or her “Una mesa para tres personas, por favor,” meaning, “A table for three people, please.”
Take your seat. You don’t need to badger the mozo, a simple exchange of glances will usually work to get his attention. Look at the menu we’ve listed above. Do you see a drink you want on the menu of the café? To order your beverage say, “Te pido un(a) _____, por favor,” or “Me gustaría un(a) ____, por favor.” You can use this sentence and insert whichever beverage you would like. When the mozo brings your drink, be sure to say muchas gracias.
Now you sit and enjoy it. Rushing through a well-prepared beverage is an act of violence upon the coffee.
Pairing a Bite
Be sure to indulge in some traditional lite bites that pair nicely with espresso. Don’t forgo the Argentinian croissant called medialuna (literally half-moon). They are not your average butter croissant. They are glazed, often with honey. If you’re feeling like eating something a little more substantial, opt for jamón y queso, a ham and cheese sandwich served on a croissant or in an empanada.
The Argentine psychologist Jorge Bucay said, “El tiempo que se disfruta es el verdadero tiempo vivido,” meaning, “The time that is enjoyed is the time that is truly lived.” So, when in Rome, or Buenos Aires, do as they do! Take a moment with some friends to stop and enjoy the experience of a beverage made uniquely for you. Your other obligations can wait.
Featured Image Credit: Chevanon Photography, Pexels