They warn us about tremors, they advise us not to take our phones out in public, but what they don’t tell us foreigners is that Santiago coffee tastes like water from the fiery taps of hell. It’s scalding hot, it’s bitter and it’s usually an off-putting dirty-sock colour. Espressos are bad enough but when it comes to anything more complex like the addition of milk, or dare I say frothed milk, a whole new sinister underworld of offensive beverages opens up.
Photo courtesy Plaza Victoria
Visitors from Europe may have risked ordering the ‘Cappuccino Italiano,’ which is available in most of Santiago’s pseudo-respectable cafes. On doing so, one may have expected a thick caramel-coloured espresso adorned with lashings of creamy steamed milk and perhaps an acorn-shaped coffee trail embellishing the top layer of bubble-free foam.
Instead, a disappointing watery substance indistinguishable from a cortado is served up in a glass with a handle - which needless to say is hardly the ideal receptacle for a cosy beverage. To add insult to injury it is likely to be finished off with something that resembles seaside scum flopped stagnantly on top.
Weeks of upsetting coffee experiences at Santiago cafes might, with luck, lead the desolate visitor, half-mad with imperfect cappuccino distress, to stray from the coffee hub of Lastarria to the unlikely Santa Isabel metro area. The cafe on the corner simply named Plaza Victoria is eclectically decorated with bright walls, elephant murals and twittering budgies in the beer garden. While this lends the place a safari air, the range of Paninis, Gelatos and even San Benedetto Italian bottled water adds an authentic European edge.
The Cappuccino Italiano is served in an inviting china cup, not too big or small. The foam is smooth, without the glimmer of a bubble and it’s painted with an exciting chocolate coloured squiggle. It’s creamy and warm, unlike the usual tongue tearing devil’s brew.
The foam, instead of suspiciously evaporating after the first sip, remains for the duration of the coffee experience. It’s perfect.
Perhaps the secret to Plaza Victoria’s success is the professional coffee training administered to each Barista by half-Columbian manager, Juan Mario Carvajal, who has traveled widely around Europe and South America studying coffee. Juan runs ‘Coffee Maniacs,’ a school which offers courses for future Baristas, coffee addicts and those who simply want to deepen their knowledge as clients.
He comments, “Coffee culture in Santiago has developed a lot in the last few years, especially in the last few months, but it’s still largely basic and in some cases flawed.” Nicoles Atenas, a barista from Plaza Victoria, reveals that the secret is in the beans, which are only of the finest Italian and Colombian varieties. For the perfect cappuccino he says, “Make sure the milk never burns and is kept very cold before foaming to achieve the ideal texture.” These words of wisdom soothe the ears of the wearied perfection-deprived wanderer. It seems that the Santiago underworld of coffee isn’t as hellish as it first appeared.
Plaza Victoria Cafeteria
Santa Isabel 52, Santiago, Chile
Mon-Fri 12.30 – 21.00
Sat & Sun 16.00-21.00