Random coffee stories from Peru and Bolivia

“- Un café, por favor

– Aqui no hay café, lo siento

– Pero el menu dice “café”

– Ah si, pero solamente en la mañana para el desayuno”

It was in the afternoon, at the market in Huaraz, Peru, where I learnt that coffee is mostly served for breakfast. This is how it works while travelling, learning by doing. Don’t get me wrong, Peruvians drink and love coffee, they all told me so. But my impression is that coca leaf tea is way more popular, and available. They drink it as a “mate” (infusion with cane sugar) all day long, or chew it. Not only the coca leaves give you energy but they also help with altitude.

(By the way, I mostly travelled from the north to the south of the Andes, so I can only speak for what I’ve experienced there. The country is huge though, and I’m sure things are different by the sea or in the jungle near the Amazon river).

Quick history fact: coca leaves have been chewed for centuries in the area (as far as Inca time). When the Spanish arrived, they forbid it, convinced that was something evil. But when grounded from their precious energizer, mine workers happened to not be as efficient. That’s why chewing coca got authorized again. I’m not going into details here, but the coca leaves belong to the core of the Peruvian/Bolivian cultures. They are in every aspects of the cultures, from the daily life to the offers to gods.


Here’s one myth behind the origin of the leaf, found at the coca museum in Cusco.

Let me introduce you to my new coffee toy: la cafetera! This one comes from Cusco in Peru, but can be found in other countries in South America. It looks a bit like an Italian coffee maker, but doesn’t work the same way. This is a  drip coffee maker: the water is poured from the top, going through the coffee grounds, ending up in the lower part.


Beautiful, isn’t it?

With that pot, most places prepare some kind of “coffee extract” (as they call it), mostly made to be mixed with hot milk (which is most of the time evaporated milk) or hot water, and sugar (recommended). This is called a “café pasado”.

Café con leche… or… leche con café!

In major cities, it is quite easy to find a restaurant or a café with an espresso machine. But anywhere else, this is how you will be served coffee. Bon voyage!


This is a “leche con café”: a glass of hot milk, a jar of coffee extract so you can add as little/much coffee as you want, sugar and…mate de coca! In Huaraz, Peru.



Same, at another café in Huaraz, Peru.



Two coffees with milk, in Piura, Peru.



A coffee with milk and the best unexpected cup of black coffee I had in a market, a well-roasted Peruvian coffee from Sandia.



An old-school Bunn coffee maker in a café in La Paz, Bolivia.



Hornimans tea…that kind of tea!



There was a good laugh involved when we first were given “mini kraps” to eat in the bus…


And last but not least! Remember I told you about café Arabica in Lima? Well, there was another good surprise. After 30 hours in busses from La Paz to Lima, I finally made it to Lima airport. I had 9 hours to wait for my flight, and there was no wifi available, so the obvious solution was…to borrow Starbucks’. I went there, and fortunately, it was full. I decided to explore a bit further and there it was, the perfect cosy little café that you don’t expect to find in airports. I walk closer and guess what I see?


“Come Audrey, come try us”

And the cherry on the cake, they have wifi! The coffee was very good, the barista and the waiters extremely nice. I had a yummy brownie and the my neighbours’ food look and smelled delicious. We talked about coffee for a while and I happily boarded the plane hours later with a sample of Peruvian coffee to brew at home, how nice! The place is called Pikeos and opened at the end of may. I warmly recommend it if you ever hang out at Lima airport.


Beautifully roasted Peruvian coffee (unfortunately I cant’ remember where it’s from, if you’ve been to Peru you can probably understand why)

A break from instant coffee in Lima, Peru.

It was one of those greyish day when you can’t really tell if it’s 6 in the morning or in the afternoon. I had arrived in Lima early in the morning after a night spent in the bus from Huaraz. My friend Matthew and  I were walking in the streets of Miraflores, looking for a hotel room to spend the only night we had there before getting back to the Andes, this time around Cuzco. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, we passed by a very red window where I had a glimpse of a familiar red machine with a silvery inscription on it:

I turned towards Matt and let him know, smiling: “we’re having coffee here”, following the logic that if a coffee shop owner invests in such a good (and expensive) espresso machine, he has to know what he’s doing. Matt didn’t question the glint of hope and enthusiasm in my eyes as we went in. We were straight away welcomed by two young ladies grinning happily from ear to ear.

I looked around and saw a bunch of other familiar toys and knew it was safe to ask questions about the different varietals of coffees and kinds of roasts they may be brewing.

Apparently happy that I asked, Ariana (the main barista that day) started talking about the coffee she was offering, a blend of red and yellow caturra, catimor and Typica from Satipo (in the center of Peru). Presenting us two samples of beans on the counter, she explained about the two different roasts she uses, a light to medium for the pourovers and a slightly darker one for the espresso, to lower the acidity and give more body to it. Delighted to meet such a passionate and knowledgeable barista, I ordered my favorite, a chemex, and Matt the usual cappuccino.

 We sat down in the café area and enjoyed the best coffee that I’ve had in South America so far. My chemex was as tasteful as Ariana had announced it would be and Matt (being a spoiled Australian cappuccino drinker) was delighted to have a taste of home.

The cosy café area (with books and board games) and the bar on the background

The menu, on the cover is the outside façade of the café.

Part of the coffee menu, either espresso-based drinks or alternative methods

Detail on the wall

Arabica serves coffee roasted by Biasetti, a roastery and café in a nearby neighbourhood where Ariana also roasts coffee (http://www.cafebisetti.com). The owner of the 2 places is the grandchild of an Italian coffee roaster. After spending some time in New York City, he decided to start a café in his own country where he couldn’t find the same quality. He sources the coffee directly from Peruvian coffee growers and all the informations are available to the customers.

We went there for a visit later that same day. It is a bigger café where people hang out with friends and/or laptops, it could just be in any capital city for that matter. Not as cosy in my opinion, but the coffee was excellent as well.

Biasetti café and roastery, Barranco, Lima.

La Marzocco and other brewing methods

La Marzocco and other brewing methods

Poster on a wall. Learning process.

Our coffee comes from families growing coffee from every areas of the country, in an organic way and respecting the ecosystem.
Once harvested and processed, this coffee is roasted by roast masters at Biasetti, District of Barranco, Lima.

A not too bad alternative is “café verde” in Miraflores, good coffee but not as dedicated folk.

Thanks Ariana and Anne for great coffee experiences. Make sure you visit them when in Lima, I mean, if you want a break from instant coffee.