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Consider this a warning: there is no coming back from specialty coffee. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys an average cup of joe every morning… you might just want to avoid this article and any coffee joints I’m about to recommend. Stay with your little cozy mugs with your stale beans and your watered-down conformity, because once you are freed from mediocrity, you won’t settle for less.
If you are ready to liberate your palette, a vast universe of caffeinated experiences await you, and your nose will bask in the marvelous aroma of this bitter nectar. You will wonder at how you could ever enjoy that bland beverage offered in those union-busting or alfajor slinging chains of malcontent.
However – as any coffee snob in the city will tell you, not all specialty coffee joints are created equal. Some are pretenders, serving specialty coffee in name only – charging excessively for overly toasted beans and subpar foam with a side of sass. But fear not. I’ve taken it upon myself to give you this (highly subjective) guide to some of the best specialty coffee spots in the city.
ÖSS Kaffe | Nuñez
I must first pay my respects to Öss, as its owner Fer was the first to initiate me in the way of the bean before the city became proliferated with other specialty coffee joints. At the time of my baptism, Öss was just a little room with a window, on a corner that bordered the train rails in Nuñez. Now it’s a well-known brand, with various locals in hip neighborhoods around the city, and even a few that have crossed the Atlantic.
I discovered this shop by coincidence while taking a morning stroll when its cozy yet stylish interior caught my eye. It had little to no division between the barista and the clients, which set the tone for the whole experience.
Fer saw me staring around and invited me in, sharing a bit of his life and how he had gotten into specialty coffee. I ordered a flat white and listened for a while, and as he handed me the mug and I went for the sugar, he signaled for me to stop.“Wait…” he said, “you can add sugar if you want but first, try it without…” At the time, I could not picture drinking anything without those sweet, addictive crystals and yet, something in the way he exhorted me like a sage imparting wisdom got to me. I ended up adding the devil’s snow anyway, but just a couple of months later I quit it altogether. After a month or so of sharing my Saturday mornings with Fer and a lot of characters that frequented his table, I moved out of Nuñez and never came back until the beginning of this year. Unsurprisingly, the quiet little place I knew had evolved into a bustling hub that provides seats in the street and usually has half a block of people in line. Fer was taking orders, and as we caught up, he told me his next Öss would be opening in my own neighborhood of Recoleta.
Öss Kaffe is a foolproof way to begin your journey, and if you are lucky enough, Fer will point the way, as he did for me way back when.
The Shelter | Retiro
Have you ever felt alone or defenseless in this huge metropolis that is Buenos Aires? Well, you’ll be glad to know you can always go to The Shelter for a little caffeinated protection.
A friend of mine introduced me to The Shelter after I had rambled on about my newfound obsession. When I heard there was a specialty coffee place just ten blocks away from my apartment, I rushed at the opportunity to explore it. This was during a time when finding good coffee had me crossing frontiers left and right. So the very next day I woke up and headed straight for a Flat White breakfast.
It blew my expectations away! The location itself is lovely, well-placed on one of the most European streets of the city. The bar is located in front of a church that might as well worship coffee. Feel free to explore that street after a warm cup, the architecture is stunning.
The Shelter is a rather classy place, very well decorated. It feels like the living room of an old jazz musician that only thinks in black. You can comfortably sit inside, using their luxurious couches and wooden chairs, or you can sit outside, at one of their conveniently placed tables. I spent the most part of a year as a regular customer, pairing my coffee with their delicious almond alfajores, and was gladly impressed with their iced flats and affogatos for those hot summer days.
Once you’ve been sheltered, it’s hard to go back to the outside world. Alas, we all must eventually, but you can take solace in the fact that The Shelter is always there for you, and isn’t that what we all need?
Cafe Malecón | Chacarita
Sometimes we need something else, a cozy space with a friendly face, conveniently placed for when we are rushing the pace, and if that is the case…Cafe Malecón is your base.
El Malecon is an unassuming coffee-to-go joint in Villa Crespo, near the Dorrego subway station. I discovered it with my girlfriend on the way to the weekend feria in Parque Los Andes, and were utterly bowled over by the bold, impressive flavor.
We were also charmed by Rey’s welcoming smile, beckoning us behind the bar. An expression we have become accustomed to seeing more than once a week. Friendly as they come, Rey knows how to make you feel comfortable and entertained while he makes your cup come to life. The experience itself makes up for the lack of seats or tables to perch in, and even if you are not just rushing by, the taste of a well-made espresso as you wander around that part of town is a blissful affair.
Be sure to pay Rey a visit next time you are around the area, you’ll surely turn into a regular.
Ninina | Various Locations
Would you ever expect to find superb coffee in a shoe shop? Well, neither did I, until I ran into one. Ninina is a specialty coffee brand with installations in various places around the city. Unfortunately, the cute installation that surprised me a while back is no longer available… but don’t fret, you can still find them in an amazing location nearby. We mean no other place than the Malba Museum, where they sell their coffee in style and taste, surrounded by art and design.
Ninina understands that specialty coffee came to change the way Argentinians relate to the bean, and even more than that, how they go about choosing the places that serve them. I’ve personally encountered specialty coffee brands in bars, museums, shops, and even on vehicle set-ups like bicycles and cars. Can’t wait to be surprised again in the near future!
Materia Prima Cafe | Palermo Botanico
As any coffee fan knows, coffee can be enjoyed in its purest, unadulterated form as an espresso or it can be combined with milk to make cappuccinos, flat whites, lattes, and all sorts. I happen to be a fan of the classic dairy combinations, but that might not be an option for everyone. Luckily, specialty coffee joints have popularized plant-based alternatives like almond milk for a delicious and conscientious cup.
One such locale is Materia Prima. Located in Palermo, this place specializes in plant-based products. Their coffee is delicious, and you can pair it up with original pastries that follow the same principle. I especially recommend the vegan brownie – it’s simply scrumptious, and you can’t tell the difference between it and its non-vegan relatives.
Materia Prima is also home to a small eco-friendly grocery store, so you can do your shopping while enjoying an amazing cappuccino.
Specialty coffee has conquered Buenos Aires, and as one of the converts, I couldn’t be more grateful. Having witnessed how it grew from just some random spots in the city to a common entity in most neighborhoods, it’s wonderful to know that a great cup of joe is almost always just a few blocks away. While I think these five spots are a great entry point, I’d love to hear your favorites. Be sure to let me know yours!