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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!
Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

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5 Comments

  1. John on April 9, 2012 at 2:51 am

    I love the photos! Buenos Aires is on my list of places to see. That hot chocolate sounds amazing haha. Here in the Philippines, it’s generally only milo or instant coffee!

    • jess2716 on April 9, 2012 at 5:57 pm

      You must visit! It’s so lively and vibrant. And you really will fall in love with the chocolate 🙂

  2. Joy (My Turkish Joys) on October 6, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Luv this idea of “instant” hot chocolate! Sounds so delicious right now!

  3. Analie Julie on March 5, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Thank you Jessie for this nice article. I visited Tortoni cafe too ! I´d like to add the Historic cafes Tour me and my husband took this February. We visited 6 historic cafes of Buenos Aires. We loved the fileteado artwork, the vaulted ceilings, the gloriously beat-up furniture, the waiters in bowties, the checkerboard floors. Everything made for a perfect café environment. Some of the cafés were breathing and living museums.
    We fell in love with Tortoni Cafe and especially with the sculpted trio in the corner. Over the years such talented and famous people sat right there in this same chair comfortably in literary discussion over their coffee. At the end of the tour we visited the biggest book shop in Latin America which has a Cafe inside and you can take a book and read it, taking a sweet coffe, and then return the book, for free ! This book shop used to be a huge theatre, really amazing. The tour company is Kangoo Tours.

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