Despite coffee beans being a major crop throughout Latin America, good coffee is often hard to come by. For the most part it’s Nescafe down here, and as ashamed as I am to admit it, I’ve grown a taste for it in the absence of the real stuff, but every now and then, I crave, and I mean crave, a good cappuccino or espresso and will go out of my way to find a gourmet coffee shop.
In bigger cities, in particular tourist ones, such things do exist, the problem is the timing. As it turns out, gourmet coffee is an evening treat in these parts and I’ve recently found that most gourmet coffee shops don’t open until 4:00pm, 6:00pm, or even 8:00pm.
When I arrived in Cajamarca, a beautiful colonial city that’s totally set up for tourists (although more Hispanic tourists as I didn’t see a single gringo in my two days there), I did however see a ton of coffee shops.
I knew from experience that coffee shops don’t open first thing in the morning, when I’m usually on my way and wanting a coffee, but I sort of assumed that they’d open around 9:00am or 10:00am at the latest, so knowing I’d be spending an extra day in Cajamarca, I was looking forward to a late morning cappuccino after my usual trip to the local market. Having mapped a dozen coffee shops in my head from my evening walk, I was feeling prepared and on a mission for a quality coffee.
I did my morning market tour and was impressed by the amount of herbs, something I haven’t seen this abundant since Mexico. I also encountered some new fruits, one in particular they called “Guaba”, a giant bean sprout looking thing with a white fleshy fruit and black pips inside.
It was very tasty with the white flesh tasting like a combination of watery passion fruit with the texture of dry watermelon, and the pips having a sweet, nutty crunch, and the whole thing leaving a peppery after taste that stung the throat. There was also a huge amount of various grasses being sold that I couldn’t imagine were for consumption and after further inquiry, I found out they were to feed your guinea pigs.
K’ so I digress. Back to the coffee. So after my tour of the market and few quick pics, I’m off for my reward, a good cup o’ joe. I spend 45 minutes hitting the dozen shops I had spotted the night before, without a single one open. Finally, as I’m giving up and heading to back my hostal, I spot an ice cream-coffee house that had eluded me the night before. …It’s open too. Excited to have a real coffee before 10:00am, I head for the counter and order a cappuccino, …only to get a horrific look of terror, like I just asked for the content of the cash register. “NO, SENOR, NO!” “NO SE PUEDE!”…“Later, much later…” “…the espresso machine doesn’t turn on until after noon…” “lo siento, senor” Seeing my disappointed and mostly shocked look… “…Would you like an ice cream instead, senor?”
Let me point out, this is a city at 11,000’, where at 9:45 in the morning, I’m wearing jeans, wool socks, a sweater and my down puffy jacket. Seriously, I’m always open to different cultures and customs, but ice cream for breakfast and coffee dinner in close to freezing temperature? That just ain’t right, peoples!