While Colombia is one of the great producers of coffee for the world, I’m not convinced that the high-end coffee scene has hit the streets of Cartagena; even in Bogota we explored the places where coffee is produced but still struggled to find a good cup of coffee.
That said, an effort is certainly being put into the coffee scene and there are a number of “high end” coffee shops that attract a certain type of coffee connoisseur. Below are our findings from this trip to Colombia.
Abacos Libros y Cafe
We started immediately by finding coffee the morning after arrival and the interwebs have great things to say about the Bookstore-Coffee shop… so we were lured in by the ability to drink coffee while browsing books.
The idea is great (many coffee lovers are book lovers too) and we are always looking for cheap Spanish language books to practice reading. This had exactly what we were looking for in terms of los libros… but the espresso was too bitter.
Still, it was strong and a good kick in the pants on the first day in Cartagena… and a little like drinking jet fuel (not that I actually know what drinking jet fuel is like).
Cafe San Alberto
San Alberto has a global marketing team that many companies only dream of having. According to their campaign, San Alberto coffee wins so many awards that it’s considered one of the best coffees in the world. Because of these awards, you are paying American prices for a small purple bag of beans.
Their reputation drew us to their Calle de Los Santos de Piedra location.
There’s a mystery to making a great coffee using San Alberto beans… one that we weren’t able to crack. In the cafe itself, we had a decent coffee experience and because of this experience, we carted home a coveted royal purple bag of their best beans.
But, the mystery became: how do we make good coffee using these beans? We couldn’t do it with any of the methods at our disposal: Turkish, French, hot brew, cold brew, pour-over, and straight-up espresso. In all cases the coffee tasted like… well… like it came from ringing out a dirty, wet dishrag.
So, I turned the bag of remaining beans over to a well-travelled friend who had many more exotic and efficient methods of making coffee. She explored everything at her disposal… things we didn’t even try… and the results were the same: bad coffee. It smelled really good but tasted terrible.
So… best coffee shop in the world?… not our experience.
Cafe del Mural
The story behind cafe mural in Getsemaní is one that is becoming more and more common for Cartagena. The owner, David Arzayus, left Cartagena for a lucrative job as an Engineer. However, the stress of being an Engineer and realization that he loved coffee (his family’s business) drew him back to Cartagena where he opened Cafe del Mural, a coffee laboratory.
The people at this coffee shop are so friendly and knowledgeable; it positively oozes the community spirit of Getsemaní.
Less “milk-espresso-barista” and more “open kitchen coffee lab,” here you experience the science behind coffee making and are able to partake in a tasting that fuses non-coffee related items like cloves and peppercorns with coffee from around Colombia… prepared in a variety of different ways (some very old and traditional, others extremely experimental).
This was by far the best coffee experience for us in Cartagena even though I’m not a huge drip coffee fan (it wasn’t bitter at all). The coffee tasting tour is what makes this cafe really shine.
Cafe Central Traveler’s Coffee
Next door is an extremely popular, hipster heaven, hard to find a seat kind of place (Epoca Espresso Bar)… that we tried but quickly walked away from when we saw signs of poor service (totally backed up by Trip Advisor). I’m glad we walked away because we would have missed out on Cafe Central.
It was the sign that drew us in… and the fact that they have soy milk.
The coffee at Cafe Central is… well… ok… as a soy milk cappuccino (using cheap soy with good espresso).
It was the experience that kept bringing us back; the cafe has a mellow academic vibe (unlike the crazy, bar scene vibe of other places). Here we listened to professors discuss their studies in a very Indiana Jones kind of way… and watched Youtubers patiently edit and upload their videos over the free wifi. It was relaxing, quiet, consistent, and a great place to people watch.
Also, this was the only place that we discovered that served smoothie bowls, which we needed after three days of greasy, deep-fried, meat-filled local breakfasts.