In Caracas, as in many cities in Venezuela, we don’t ask friends out. We invite them to have coffee with us.
It doesn’t matter how light or life-changing the conversation is, most people in Caracas would prefer to have it with coffee. In this regard, although drinks like beer and rum are a no-miss in celebrations, coffee is the king of social drinks.
Some of us prefer to make coffee at home, but many have it on the go or to drink with friends in cafés.
The venues are radically different. You can find sophisticated specialty cafés while walking in Caracas’ most exclusive neighborhoods, and some counterintuitive spots inside Caracas’ downtown. In contrast, street vendors serve cheap coffee in tiny plastic cups near the subway stations and most high-traffic spots.
Somewhere in the middle, traditional bakeries -panaderías- offer espresso-based drinks, with so disparate quality standards that it’s hard to know in advance where it’s going to be good. But I tell you, many bakeries serve the tastiest, frothiest coffee you can have. And for people like me, it’s hard to avoid tasting delicious local pastries along with a café con leche or a marrón.
To learn more about Caracas coffee culture and its contrasts, keep reading!
Guayoyo or espresso: Waves of Caracas’ Coffee
Different brewing methods are a novelty for most locals but are available at the finest coffee shops in the city. Picture by Yker Valerio at Cafetería Kaldi.
We are used to talking about different waves in coffee culture and business. Normally, this concept refers to improvements in quality standards, focusing more recently on sustainability, traceability, and fair trade practices. I borrow this concept to understand Caracas coffee culture, albeit, in a different light,
Three completely different standards coexist in the city, as long as coffee enthusiasts support them.
The first one, the most popular and affordable, is filter coffee. Most homes in the city, regardless of income and social status, have a cloth filter strainer. Perhaps the only serious alternative is the Moka pot, one of the many gifts that Italian immigrants brought to the city, and Venezuela as a whole.
What is Guayoyo?
Filter coffee, as a result, is a local favorite, with the guayoyo as the undisputed Venezuelan coffee drink. Guayoyo is a delicate coffee brew, mostly made at home, that can range in strength from 14:1 to 20:1 brewing ratio. However, most locals expect a hot, light-bodied, and sweet black coffee when drinking a guayoyo.
To some extent, guayoyo is the Alpha and Omega of Venezuelan coffee, but most particularly of coffee in Caracas. Guayoyo is great for specialty coffee and commercial coffee alike because it showcases our local love for filter coffee at home, from street vendors, and at cafés.
In the middle, espresso drinks are as important as guayoyo to understand Caracas coffee culture. Frothy espresso-based drinks and bold espressos are at the center of the city’s social life, particularly when enjoying the best pastries like milhojas and bombas. Pan dulce is the most affordable and popular coffee companion, but it isn’t rare to find French and Italian pastries to serve along with coffee in good bakeries.
Cafés menus: A puzzling melting pot
High-end espresso bars offer the best single-origin coffees in the country. Picture by Yker Valerio at Cospe Café.
Traditional café menus used color as a reference for coffee drinks. Anyone in Caracas could discern between a café con leche -a caffé latte- and a marrón-pretty similar to a macchiatone, or a modern cortado. In this regard, most baristas could easily know what clients wanted in terms of the darkness of the coffee drink. The pickiest coffee enthusiasts can ask for a bit more milk or coffee and baristas fix the drink accordingly.
While fine cafés serving Venezuelan single origins are a blessing for many producers, the café menus can be a headache for most traditional coffee lovers.
Italian-style drinks like macchiato and cappuccino stormed the menus, and many customers are still lost in translation. Fortunately for travelers, it’s now easier to know what to order at a café in Caracas. It’s, however, a lot less fun for us to explain local coffee drinks to foreign visitors and tourists.
Innovative coffee drinks that mix liquors, fruit juices, and sweet syrups with espresso are available at some cafés as well, without having prohibitive prices. Even offering single-origin coffee beans, Venezuela is a coffee producer. For this reason, many exclusive cafés can offer specialty drinks between 2$ and 4$ per cup. Still, the market for specialty coffee is growing, with an increasing community of enthusiasts who are nurturing the newest trends, challenging traditions, and striving to create a premium coffee culture in the city.
Should you try coffee in Caracas?
A delicious V60 filter coffee brewed with a single-origin. Picture by Yker Valerio at Quiero1Café.
As a local, I can’t be objective, but after drinking good coffee at Italian cafés and in other countries like Colombia and Panama, I can assure you that Caracas has a top-class offer, with a few dozen cafés, but plenty of bakeries and home coffee connoisseurs.
And remember: if we invite you to have a cup of coffee, it doesn’t matter what we end drinking, you’re a friend to us.