As someone who recently started to explore sensuous ethnography, I use every opportunity to train my senses. What better way to do so in Colombia than checking out the best coffee places? The following alphabetical list is 100% fieldwork approved. All the places use coffee from Colombian farmers in different parts of the country and roast themselves at the respective places, so that the beans are always freshly roasted and ground, sometimes only minutes before serving.
Abadía Café, Calle 119 # 14A-14
It’s a grey sunday afternoon on a long weekend, few people are on the streets. I stroll down the small side alley that is Calle 119 at this height, and after a few steps find Café Abadía. I feel immediately confortable, the ample space is full of cozy sofas. There are two other guests, both reading books in their chosen corners, and enjoying a coffee. I sit down and order a cappuchino and a chocolate cake which looks amazing. It doesn’t deceive me, and neither does the cappuchino. They are served on handmade pottery, and I am convinced at that moment that I found the perfect place for a lazy sunday afternoon read surrounded by people who seem to think the same.
Amor Perfecto, Calle 119 Bis # 5-37
It’s a Saturday afternoon, my husband and I have just had lunch with his family at a vegan restaurant in Usaquén. We’re all pretty full, so Juan and I decide to go for a coffee at Amor Perfecto, which is close-by. We walk up the few blocks, the streets are bustling with locals and tourists alike, because Usaquén is a nice area to go for breakfast, lunch, coffee, drinks, etc. We arrive at Amor Perfecto, and before we can lay eyes on a cosy sofa right at the entrance, we’re escorted to a “table for two” somewhere inbetween the bustling front and the quiet patio. The decoration is tasteful, but somehow the elements don’t combine. All details have been carefully selected, but the overall atmosphere is a little cold. We order two Macchiattos, which arrive promptly, decorated with hearts in milkfoam. As I take a sip, I am surprised by a strong bitterness on my lips and prominent citric notes on the tip of my tongue. The coffee is otherwise rather tasteless, between those two sensations exists a vacuum, that is only filled by the background noise: “What a wonderful world” is playing, and I think I agree. But there’s still room to improve the coffee here.
Azahar, Carrera 14 # 93A-48
It is already rather late for coffee, for my standards, when Juan and I arrive at Azahar a Wednesday evening at 7:30pm. Before, we were checking out recent novels by Colombian authors at a bookstore close to Parque 93, and when they closed at 7pm, we headed to the café. On tripadvisor, people had bemoaned the site, as Azahar is not a proper place, but rather a small stand with a roof – but still offers a few tables. Even though the nights have been cold recently, we’re fine under the roof, enjoing Macchiattos with banana cake and almond croissant. The macchiatto arrives with flawless latte art, but develops many bubbles in short time. The aroma is strong and earthy, exactly right to renew energies for another few hours. The banana cake is fluffy and tasty, only the chocolate decoration is the tiny bit too much for me.
Bourbon Coffee Roasters, Calle 70A # 13-83
I am showing around a friend from highschool, who is visiting Colombia for the first time and has a day to spend in Bogota. As I am always keen to show what I think are the best places in town, I propose we have a coffee first. I am almost two hours late to our appointment, because I was stuck in a traffic jam that surprised even my otherwise patient nature. She agrees, so we walk south the 15 blocks from where she is staying to Bourbon’s. As we enter the little street that is Calle 70A, the buildings become much more charming. Lush green trees and romantic, small front yards mix with red brick buildings, a few cafés, a theater, and one or another embassy can be found here. We enter Bourbon’s, I order a cappuccino and an almond croissant, and we sit down in the patio, which is filled with succulents hanging from the walls. Through one of the windows, we can see the roasting machine, and the air fills with the smell of roasted beans every time the wind changes its direction. The cappuchino arrives, and as I take the first sip I am overwhelmed. No, seriously, I have tears in my eyes. I’m not exactly sure that’s an appropriate reaction to coffee, but thinking about it in terms of that scene from Ratatouille, when the restaurant critic get’s a childhood flashback, I guess that’s fine. The soft, then stronger coffee flavour finishes with slight citric undertones. Combined with the delicious almond croissant, this is the clear winner for Best Coffee Ever.
Café Cultor @ Wilborada Bookstore, Calle 71 # 10-47, Int. 4
The bookstore is crowded to overflowing on that saturday afternoon. Several baby buggies are cramed in the entrance, and from upstairs the voices of a woman and a girl can be heard singing songs to the sound of an accoustic guitar. The café within the building is equally exploding, and I have to share a table with a woman and her baby. Apparently I entered a parallel dimension beaming me right back to an Eltern-Kind-Café in Prenzlauer Berg. I feel completely out of place, as I am at least five years younger than the average woman around, and have come by without a child, but still order a cake and a cappuccino. As I eat the first bite, which is surprisingly tasty (I expected much sweeter), even the singing child sounds nice to me. The cappuccino comes with flawless latte art, the milky white leaves forming a perfect contrast to the otherwise caramel coloured foam. I am surprised to find notes of peanut in my coffee, a soft scent and low accidity. The coffee is indeed very good, but I will have to come back on another, less crowded day.
Café Mundano, Diagonal 40 # 7-40, Local 03, Semisotano
I almost don’t find the café. It’s noon, the sun is shining so bright I just want to hide somewhere but still run around the block clueless for about three times, until I realize I’ve tried to early. I find the café a block away from where I was searching. There’s only two more people here, but the place will become crowded during the 30 minutes I spend there. The place is small, but has a charming industrial chic and welcomes with the smell of coffee. The place mats display the coffee variants on offer, and I decide for a capucchino, a glass of water and a vanilla-blueberry cake. The coffee itself smells very nice, but doesn’t have a strong taste, and the vanilla-blueberry cake has only few blueberries, but convinces in terms of taste. Plus, the sparkling frosting makes for a glamorous experience.
Catación Pública, Carrera 120A # 3A-47
It’s my birthday, and my husband and his family invite me for lunch in Usaquén. After a delicious Italian meal, I want to have coffee and desert at another place, using the opportunity to get to know new locations. We head a little north-east from the plaza to climb up to Catación Pública, a coffee place dedicated to educating locals and foreigners alike in terms of how to make the most of the precious bean. My husband and I are the only coffee lovers in the family, so while everybody else it getting down for desert, we decide to use the opportunity and have a selected bean prepared in three different styles: french press, metall filter, and siphon. We’re skeptical about the french press, and have tried with a Chemex at home, but are fascinated by the sciency aura of the siphon and willing to be surprised. We select a variant from the Huila, that is supposed to have notes of blackberry and black tea. As we try the three different preparations, we’re surprised to actually taste differences. The french press again deceives us, even though without milk it leaves soft notes of coffee on our tongues. The metal filter brew surprises with heavily acid notes, bringing out this quality of the selected bean. The siphon gets closest to an Espresso preparation, as it emphasizes both the earthy notes and the citri acids, without overemphasizing any. I don’t think this is going to become part of our own kitchen, however, as the sciency aura with the Bunsen burner like aesthetics doesn’t seem to be an everyday option.
Salvo Patria, Calle 54A # 4-13
I’m around for lunch on one of my last days in Bogota. The neighborhood is beautiful, some taller buildings, but mostly two- to three-story houses made of brick, similar to those around Bourbon’s. The first thing I like about Salvo Patria is that guests get a carafe of tap water right when they take a seat, as I am thirsty from walking. I then order an Amazonian fish filet for lunch, with blue potatoes and salad as sides. I’m a huge fan of lulo juice, so I get one of these, too, which comes with the sugar on the side so that guests can decide for themselves how much they would like to add. My main dish arrives with delicious homemade mayonese that combines nicely with the blue potatoes. The fish is very tasty as well. I order two kinds of chocolate mousse for dessert and accompany them with a macchiato. The dessert is amazing, but I have to take half of it home because I can’t finish it there and then. The macchiato is from Azahar. The strong variant from the Huila region is full-bodied and finishes with some citric notes, making it the perfect side for the chocolate mousse.
Varietale, Calle 41 # 8-43
It is Dia sin Carro, or car-free day in Bogotá and I get to Varietale surprisingly easy. Many people are riding their bikes, and the area around Javeriana University is crowded. I meet a friend in front of the university and we walk down the two blocks to Varietale, as we catch up on the news. The street is crowded with food stalls and cafés, so it’s not easy to see the cute white and teal coloured façade from afar. Inside, it is crowded as well, but we manage to find a place in the ample patio. I order a cappuccino and a Pastel Gloria, a bocadillo- and arequipe-filled pastry, which is one of my favorite Colombian sweets. The order arrives as we exchange news on current projects and plans. The cappuccino is very soft, generally good in taste, but not too varied in nuances. I suspect they use too much milk. The pastel is amazing, however.
In my search for methodological entries to researching affect, I came across Sarah Pink’s Doing Sensory Ethnography (2009, SAGE Publications) as one of the core texts on sensory ethnographic approaches. And even though the connection of affects and senses is not as obvious as it may look, given that a five-sense-sensorium is a cultural construct, and considering the debate of whether affects are or are not pre-social, the volume does offer a very broad overview about the research done in relation to these five senses (and place-making). In general, it is easy to read, not too theory-ladden, and full of good examples. I really enjoyed the scope of research (and art, architecture and everyday-practice inputs), which allow for a very nice entry into the world of sensory ethnography.
The book centers on three mayor steps in the sensory research process, which are the theoretical baselines and ethic considerations for research on and with the senses, the practices in the field, and the interpretation and representation of (sensory) findings. The last part could have been a lot more experimental for my taste, especially considering the author’s argument for ways of writing that appeal to the senses, and overall the text became somewhat repetitive toward the end. But in genera, it is a good starting point to explore anthropological perspectives on the senses and how to research them.
How did I come across the book?
I think I first heard about Sarah Pink when I was still writing my M.A. thesis. I spend a few days at the Grimm Zentrum with two colleagues, who were both working on papers related to alternative (read: feminist, decolonial) research methodologies. Over lunch, I listened attentively to their talk and made a ‘head-note’ on reading Pink someday.
When and where did I read it?
It’s been in my office for quite a while, and it’s really not a big book. However, it took me a bit to get started, and towards the end I actually fell asleep on several occassions. But I think I made it in less than a week, reading a chapter every once in a while.