Ever since that first cup of cappuccino purchased for me by my gusto-inducing grandmother nearly thirteen years ago I have been hooked on coffee. It’s been a slow rise from transcending the cappuccino, to sinning with the latte, using a minimum of milk on my americano, trying an espresso for the first time, and eventually knowing to differentiate good coffee from bad coffee.
For the past five years it’s been an obligatory cup in the morning, maybe two more before noon, one after lunch and one more before bed. Most of these cups are brewed and pressed at home since coffee is slowly becoming an expensive pleasure, and at times that expense is over-valued or over-rated. Here in Tijuana I have a list of places where I am willing to spend those extra two to five dollars on a cup. And here is how I would rank my top eight:
8) La Cafetera
Located in Plaza Río, Tijuana’s best known Shopping Center, this little coffee stand is my preferred stop when I am desperate for a cup before the movie starts (there’s a Cinépolis here). I placed this last on the list because I consider it better than what coffeehouse chains offer. Ironically placed in front of a Starbucks, this little shop still survives in spite of it. From here I can recommend either an espresso, a mocha, or their frappuccinos. Just don’t expect the second coming.
Located in Zona Río, this café is particularly cute, with an artsy kitsch sort of look to it. It’s a place that boasts a variety of coffee, drinks and a quaint breakfast and lunch menu. Adorned with colors all around, and seats made out of recycled material, this is a place to have lunch and a cup of coffee on the side. Their chilaquiles, made in a quiche sort of way, are a sinful pleasure. And their americanos are not too shabby.
6) Das Cortéz
This recent addition to hipster adored espresso bars has around four locations so far and is looking to have more. It’s look is a combination of a Mac Store meets black IKEA furniture, but its owner is more of a hippie entrepreneur himself. He is passionate about making coffee with the care and value it deserves. I wouldn’t say that the coffee is the best there is, but it’s definitely getting there.
5) Café Baristi
This older coffeehouse chain is the equivalent of having a favorite dinner: the food is good, but not gourmet. The baristas seem to change every two years or so, but the taste has never drastically changed. I’ve liked this café so much that when I worked in D’Volada Café & Smoothies (Tijuana’s equivalent of a Starbucks) during my breaks I would go across the street to this café for a cup of coffee. This café boasts a long list of groovy frappuccinos, half the menu is reserved for these actually. Here I mostly order americanos and the occasional mocha, but I would definitely recommend anyone give the frappuccinos a try.
4) Latitud 32º
Bohemian in nature, this café is perfectly located by the sea in Playas de Tijuana. It is owned by Don Carlos, and old man with whom my girlfriend and I occasionally chat with, and he has always been keen on always having art flow through here, even reserving thursday nights reserved for old or underground films. The coffee is good and the ambiance is very inviting, which is a detail that we miss in every other café: you either get excellent coffee or a comfortable ambiance, but rarely both. The coffee here isn’t beyond compare, but the combination of the place, the sea and a cup-of-joe add up for an overall good experience.
(so bohemian they don’t even have a website or Facebook page)
3) Diente de León Café
Another café by the sea, this one has a more backyard feel to it with two levels from which to choose a seat, the top one having a view of the sea. What I normally drink here are espressos, they are visually beautiful and very tasty, and nothing beats a good espresso by the sea. Plus they have these really good home made cranberry cookies!
2) La Stazione Espresso Bar
This used to be a coffee shop located behind Tijuana’s Hipódromo, then it evolved to an espresso bar. Later it moved to Zona Río and was a tiny bar, then to Hipódromo again in a garage of sorts, and now it’s moved to La Cacho. I’ve yet to understand why the owner is such a nomad, but I pray that it’s not that the cafe is not making enough of a revenue, because this coffee is very good. Its good enough to the point where even if you order a mocha the chocolate will not overpower the coffee, and this is precious. If there is one thing that annoys the hell out of me it’s when coffee drinks that include milk, chocolate or any other tasty additive, you can never really taste the espresso it supposedly includes. Here you can order anything and you will always get that hint or kick of espresso.
1) Caffe Sospesso
Located in Zona Río, close to the Cuahutémoc roundabout, this is the king of kings! I guarantee this is the best coffee you can find anywhere in Tijuana! This is the gourmet coffee that is worth its gourmet price and maybe even taking some home to brew yourself (which I do on occasion). The reason for this café’s high quality is due to the owner being passionate enough about coffee that he personally goes on trips to Oaxaca, Colombia, Burundi, Ethiopia and Sumatra to find the beans he needs and make sure they go through all the necessary procedures to reach something close to perfection. So honestly, anything you order here is good: drip coffee, french press, espresso, anything! You can read this two ways: this place is for snobs, or this place is for a really really really good cup of coffee.
That’s the beauty of coffee, it can be presented different ways and serve different purposes: for health, for adrenaline, for dessert, for pleasure, for hobby, for something sweet, for something bitter… the list goes on! And you can either care about what you’re drinking or not care at all, it’s completely up to you and what need you have for coffee in your life. Personally, all of the above are the way coffee works for me. As listed in the second paragraph, I use it to wake up, to concentrate, as something to hang to during the day, as dessert, as a midnight snack, and, when I am willing to spend the money, as pure pleasure.
What are your favourite local coffee joints?
P.D. Unfortunately, El Diente de León no longer exists.