Ordering Coffee Like a Local at Buenos Aires’ Oldest Cafe

In Buenos Aires, coffee is a big deal. You won’t see any locals toting a Starbucks cup or sipping any brew that’s less than perfect.Argentinians will spend hours and hours in a cafe, sipping their coffees while having great conversation. Coffee is such a big deal in the country that in Buenos Aires there are over 50 famous coffee shops that are recognized by the state.

Located on the famous Avenida de Mayo, halfway between the National Congress and Casa Rosada, sits the oldest cafe in Argentina: Cafe Tortoni. Opened in 1858, the interior, furniture, lighting, and design have not changed a bit. It’s literally like taking a trip back in time, and the old-world charm will make your coffee taste that much better. Myriad paintings and photographs adorn the walls, as well, reminding patrons of the city’s rich art  history and culture.

They open at 5:00 pm, as this is typically when locals have their “snack”– dinner isn’t until around 11:00 pm and sometimes after midnight. I’d still recommend getting there early, as above is what the line looked like when we got there at 4:30 pm.

As a foreigner, you’re going to want to know some tips on how to order like a local. Remember these tips:

  • To order a small espresso shot, make a “c” shape with your hands (shown above). You don’t even need to say anything, although if you want to say “cafe” while doing the gesture.
  • If you’d like something bigger that contains 3/4 coffee and 1/2 milk, say “jarito.”
  • To order a cup with 3/4 milk and 1/4 coffee, tell your waiter “lagrima.”
  • If you say “cafe con leche,” this means you want a big cup containing 1/2 milk and 1/2 coffee.
  • My recommendation: Order a “submarino” (shown above), which is a cup of hot milk that comes with a submarine shaped chocolate bar and a cookie. Drop the chocolate into the milk to create the most delicious and fulfilling hot chocolate you will ever taste.
  • Have a great companion. Everything tastes better with great conversation as a side!
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Jessica Festa is the editor of Jessie on a Journey as well as Epicure & Culture. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and living with a family in Ghana.


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