May 6, 2008
Coffee in Argentina isn’t flavorless grit out of a can, nor frouffy caramel-drenched stuff that costs more than a gallon of gasoline per 20 oz cup. It’s simple, straightforward, European-style coffee that’s dark and smooth and flavorful.
At a hotel, the breakfast lounge will have two large carafes-one full of very strong black coffee, and one of hot milk. Thus, cafe con leche, half strong coffee, half hot milk…the perfect accompaniment to the sweet Argentinean croissant, the medialuna.
Argentina is a culture of sidewalk cafes, and every one of them serves up cortitos, or cortitos con leche-espresso shots or espresso shots with hot milk. They are served with a little pat of brown sugar, and the smoky flavor of the coffee is perfectly balanced by the sweetness of pastries topped with bits of candied fruit that look like little jewels arranged on top. Argentineans use this as their afternoon pick-me-up.
At home, coffee is made in a metal coffee pot (called a cafetera) by pouring water at its boiling point over the coffee grounds. The grounds are in a cloth filter that’s perched on the rim of the coffee pot. The filter has a wire handle, and the fabric part hangs down into the pot like a little sock. The brewed coffee is added to the hot milk in your cup.
As simple as it may seem to make coffee, the flavor of Argentinean coffee really is unique, and tastes totally different from the coffee made from either a drip-style coffee maker or an espresso machine. Part of it is the coffee used-the coffee in Argentina is very finely ground but very lightly roasted (unlike it’s finely ground but darkly roasted smoky counterpart, espresso.) Also, sugar is already added to the coffee grounds in some brands (like my favorite, La Virginia). When the hot water hits the coffee, the sugar dissolves instantly, and the result is smooth and sweet. The method has to be considered,too-the vacuum method is it’s similar to the drip, though it is not forced like espresso, nor percolated.
Once I had tasted Argentinean-style coffee, there was no going back for me. Here in Denver, I haven’t yet found a store that sells La Virginia. You can probably find the items you’ll need where you live, likely in a Latin or ethnic market. Better still, if you’re headed to Argentina, get yourself a filter and a pot and some coffee. (These items are available in any grocery-Vea, Atomo or Carrefour) And then try this recipe:
Cafe con Leche
Coffee With Milk
4 tablespoons coffee
1 qt. water just at boiling point
hot milk (optional)
sugar to taste (optional)
Pour hot water over coffee grounds. Repeat until coffee pot is full. Pour coffee into a cup that’s half full of hot milk. Add sugar to taste, and enjoy with a pastry.