A history of coffee in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the best cafes to get some for yourself

coffeeWant to know where you can find some of the best coffee in the world? While your local coffee shop probably has some decent brews, you can find the really good stuff in São Paulo, Brazil.

Introduced by Francisco de Melo Palheta in the eighteenth century – from seeds smuggled in from French Guiana – coffee was Brazil’s greatest economy booster from the early nineteenth century until the 1930s. Concentrated in the Paraíba Valley between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and later around the red soil areas of the countryside of São Paulo and Paraná, it was the country’s main export for almost 100 years.coffee plantation Large coffee plantations

In the beginning, coffee plantations were small, isolated worlds of their own. They sat on expansive properties and incorporated slave work, which was later replaced by regular employees and immigrants. Today, coffee is produced in more factory-type farms, and these traditional plantations are no longer operational. They can, however, still be visited in the São Paulo countryside. The visits can provide a trip back in history, as traditional architecture, machinery and slaves’ barracks can still be seen on the properties.

One important aspect in coffee production was the size of the available workforce. To help create a higher output, the administration of the state of São Paulo made the immigration issue the focus of its activities, establishing a program that supported European immigration. Advertisements were run all over Europe, and immigrants were brought from their homes to the coffee farms. This allowed for rapid development in São Paulo.

With immigrant labor, the culture of coffee gained momentum and – for three quarters of a century – almost all of the country’s wealth was concentrated in coffee agriculture. Coffee farmers became the social and political elite and the new aristocracy in Brazil. This helped industrialization and allowed for the construction of large and beautiful farm houses and mansions in São Paulo.

currency The crack of 1929

The international crisis of 1929 had an immediate dual effect in the Brazilian economy: while it reduced international demand for Brazilian coffee and pushed prices down, it prevented the Brazilian government from borrowing international funds to absorb the surplus stocks of coffee. However, the government could not abandon the vulnerable producers and, from this period on, the Brazilian government began to play an active role in the economy. Coffee was something so important to the Brazilian economy, many began to call it the “green gold.”

arabia coffee Brazilian coffee today

Currently, Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee, accounting for 30% of the international coffee market. This is equivalent to the production of six other major producing countries. The coffee grounds are concentrated in four major producing states: Minas Gerais, Paraná, Espírito Santo, and, of course, São Paulo. So where can you get a little sip of heaven for yourself? Here is a list of the city’s top coffee shops and padarias (bakeries) where you can get the best brews that São Paulo has to offer.

Coffee Shops:

  • Arábia Café (pictured)- Opened in 2007, they serve coffees, sandwiches, and Brazil’s famous esfihas, savory pastries filled with meat, vegetables, and spices.
  • Coffee Lab– This roasting lab focuses on micro brews and features coffees with unique characteristics.
  • Nespresso (Nestlé boutique)– This famous brand developed exclusive capsules called Novo Dulsao do Brasil, which combine tastes of honey and malt.
  • Octavio Café & Bistrô– An official coffee evaluation done by the Universidade de São
    Paulo revealed that this venue serves some of the highest quality coffee in the area in terms of a full sensual experience.
  • Santo Grão– Here you will find select Brazilian blends, which are served fresh ground and roasted. You can even call the shop to see when the next round of coffee grinding will be, so you can watch the process for yourself.

Padarias:

  • Bella Paulista– This fusion bakery combines fresh coffee and baked goods with a pizza and snack bar, fulfilling every craving you may have.
  • Benjamin Abrahão Mundo dos Pães– This very traditional padaria has been open since 1952, and serves some of the best coffee in São Paulo.
  • Di cunto– Also very traditional, this padaria has been open since 1935 and has been developing their product over time.
  • Dona Deôla– This venue was opened in 1948 by Mrs Dona Deola, a Portuguese immigrant. Her hard work over the years has paid off, and her successful products have allowered her to open four bakeries.
  • Galeria dos Pães– If you want delicious coffee and great service at any time, this bakery has over 200 employees and 24 hour service.

[photos via anthony_p_c, DrikvdM, andybullock77, Arabia Cafe]

World’s only ski-up Starbucks open for business at Squaw Valley

squaw valley diningTwo days ago, while visiting my brother and his family in Lake Tahoe, my nephew uttered the words I’d hoped never to hear. “Starbucks just opened a ski-up window at Squaw’s Gold Coast mid-mountain complex!” he snorted, before pondering aloud how it was possible to ski with a triple venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte while wearing gloves and holding poles.

Truly, I think the world has enough Starbucks in it, and if you can’t get through a day of skiing without a fix, you just might have a problem. Not everyone feels that way, however, as reported on Eater.com today. Says Squaw Valley president and CEO Andy Wirth, “Nowhere else in the world can skiers and riders enjoy a delicious Starbucks coffee without missing a beat on the slopes.” My nephew might disagree with the logistics of that statement, but never underestimate the power of a Frappuccino habit.

How to Break the Caffeine Addiction Cycle

A video tour of 1950’s London’s swingin’ coffee bars

Contrary to popular belief, tea is not the only popular beverage served in London. In fact, ever since the first Italian espresso machine crash landed in England in 1952, London has had a swinging coffee culture. Now thanks to the vintage documentary reel above, you can take your own tour back in time to the beginnings of London’s fledgling coffee shop scene.

Hit play and enter a time when coffee was the king of cool, inside a smoky, bohemian coffee bar, packed to the rafters with young Londoners gleefully puffing on cigarettes as a lively soundtrack of jazz wafts above them. It’s as much a tour of the city’s coffee bars as it is an intriguing artifact of a London that has moved on to trendier pursuits and hangouts. This morning, go grab yourself another cup off the pot and settle in for an intriguing cross-section of life in 1950’s London.

Discovering the king of baristas in Croatia’s caffeinated capital, Zagreb

Coffee is an obsession in Croatia, and in its capital, Zagreb, the coffee culture is as strong and prevalent as the locally prepared žižule grappa. And the coffee itself? It would knock the non-fat foam off a Starbucks latte any day.

But it’s not just about the flavor. Here, having coffee is as much of a social ritual as an essential kick-start to the day, and hours and hours are spent over a cup and saucer. It’s not surprising that locals have eschewed the “to-go” cardboard coffee cup and sleeve trend, opting instead to revere coffee as a destination in itself.

To understand this, you need only spend Saturday morning at the intersection of Bogoviceva and Gajeva Streets, near Zagreb’s Flower Square. The outdoor cafés stack up on these pedestrian-only passageways, and the well- and high-heeled patrons sit elbow to diamond earring and watch the world, and each other, catwalk by. The most coveted spot is a perch at Charlie (Gajeva, 4), once owned by the late footballer Mirku Bruan, who used his nickname as the bar’s moniker. Celebrities, models, actors, singers and femme fatales descend on this area of central Zagreb to see and be seen, and presumably drink coffee, in a phenomenon known locally as Spica. I’ve heard many translations for this word – pinnacle, point, and striker (the soccer/football position) among them — but ask a Zagreber and you’ll be told that Spica means only one thing: Saturday morning coffee.

In search of something a little more down to earth, and with lower heels, for my own Spica, I strolled along Ilica Street, Zagreb’s main thoroughfare. A few cafés appeared but none appealed to me — too smoky; too over-lit; too many laptops. Dodging an endless hustle of bikers and walkers, I stopped to lick the windows (as my French friends say) of pastry shops like the family-run Vincek, whose cakes and cookies looked too perfect to eat. Then one of the always-stuffed blue trams of Zagreb whirred down Ilica Street and startled me, and as I was recovering I noticed a crowd gathered beneath an awning printed with the words “simply luxury coffee.”

From the moment I entered the minuscule Eli’s Caffé, I knew this was not going to be an ordinary coffee experience, and that owner Nik Orosi was not going to be an ordinary barista.

***
Dober dan! (Good morning!),” Orosi yells when I walk in. Eli’s Caffé is all white, from the hollowed-out cubes displaying coffee cups hanging in the front window, to the walls, ceilings and streamlined furniture in the espresso-sized room. There is only space for a few high-top tables for two, and they are occupied, and the patrons lounging on the couch in the front of the room look as if they’re staying a while. I zero in on the 5-foot red-lacquered bar in front of Orosi.

The room is jammed, wool coats diminishing the scant space between bodies, and the guttural din of Croatian is my soundtrack as I do the shimmy, duck and pardon-me dance toward the only empty stool. For a few minutes I just watch Orosi. His hands pound and twist and wipe and push out coffee, orders for which dart through the heated air like fruit flies. Each time the door opens, about every 30 seconds, Orosi looks up to greet a new wave of caffeinerati, many of whom he knows by name. I can’t help but think of “Cheers.” Eventually Orosi asks me where I’m from. When I tell him San Francisco, he asks me if I know Blue Bottle Coffee. Of course I do. It’s good coffee, I say.

“They do make very good coffee, but their baristas are too stuffy,” Orosi responds. He faults most baristas for using big words, similar to wine experts and sommeliers. “Why would they do this? People don’t understand. It’s elitist and scares people away.”

Orosi knows a thing or two about barista-ing. He was the Croatian national champion three times, in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and has several other titles that include the word “best” in them. But Orosi doesn’t brag. He opened Eli’s, named after his son, in 2005 because of a dream he had had — and “to bring coffee closer to people.”

I order a strong coffee with milk and Orosi’s hands and arms know what to do without consulting his mouth or eyes. The barista king effortlessly toggles between English and his native tongue, and simultaneously manages to collect money, make coffee, chitchat, and wipe down his spotless La Marzocco coffee machine that he dotes on like a prized Ferrari. Before he serves the fresh brew, Orosi puts his nose in the cup and takes a sniff, swirls it, then sucks a small amount in his mouth. “No. Too watery,” he says, dumping it. He starts over.

Like everything in the café, Orosi’s set up behind the bar is uncluttered. No CDs for sale. No mug-lined shelves or cookies or breath mints. Just stacks of white coffee cups and saucers, the espresso machine, a sink, and the white on white relief of his café name and again the words “simply luxury coffee.”

Orosi sets down a thick-rimmed white saucer on the bar and turns it a few centimeters clockwise. He then places a small silver spoon on the saucer, followed by the cup, which he turns so the handle faces right to expose his logo, which is really an anti-logo. He pours in the coffee, and then pours in the hot, slightly aerated milk. With a flick of the wrist, he conjures a heart pattern in the foam, then slides the concoction toward me.

I ask him about the writing on the cup that reads “No logo/ just taste.”

“I just want to make good coffee,” he says. “I don’t want people to think it’s good because it’s a certain brand.”

Orosi tells me that he also removed the menu that once hung behind the bar so that people would talk to him directly about his product. He also says the walls of the room used to be charcoal grey — the antithesis of the café’s current unpigmented interior.

“I don’t want people to come in and order #5. I want it to feel open, and for people to focus on coffee and learn something about coffee,” he says. “Just because you drink it every day doesn’t mean you know about it. I eat every day but I’m not going to call myself a chef.”

As if on cue, two women walk in, wave, and yell out something in Croatian. “See, that’s what I’m talking about,” smiles Orosi. I ask him what they said.

“They just asked for two of my best coffees,” he smiles, and wipes down his coffee machine again.

I take a sip and the coffee’s taste is full-bodied, not at all acrid like a lot of the coffee I have tried on my Croatian trip so far. It also contains just the right amount of heated milk. I close my eyes.

“Look at this,” Orosi says. He opens his hands to reveal a palm full of coffee beans: dry, brown, aromatic. Eli’s Caffé, for now, is the only establishment in Zagreb that roasts its own beans. Orosi takes a whiff and identifies the beans as Tanzanian and the ones he is using today. In the few moments we’ve been talking seven other orders have landed on his ears, and he grows silent to catch up.

“I love being busy but it keeps me from talking to people,” he says, not looking up.

I sip, watch and listen. Every now and again Orosi sings a few bars of the national anthem, the American national anthem, which I assume is for my benefit. I ask him if I can take his picture and he smiles sheepishly, lowering his eyes. His list of awards and accolades is long, and I know I’m not the first to ask for a photo, but he keeps moving, avoiding the lens and my request. I drain my last drop and begin to leave, but Orosi insists I stay for a second cup.

“After two glasses of Champagne, you’ll do something wrong. After two cups of coffee, it’s all right.”

For another 20 minutes, I am content to remain in Orosi’s caffeinated world, a world I serendipitously fell into and one I tell him I’ll return to in a week.

“Come on Monday,” he yells as I open the door to leave. “The Ethiopian beans will be perfect by then.”

When I return the coffee is indeed perfect, again. And Orosi still won’t look directly at the camera. Next time.

Eli’s Caffé
Ilica 63, Zagreb
+385 (0)91 4555 608
www.eliscaffe.com

Kimberley Lovato is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. See her full bio at www.kimberleylovato.com.

[image by Kimberley Lovato]

Tucson’s beloved Grill restaurant closes

Tucson Grill
Today marks my second Thanksgiving outside of the US (in Turkey, ironically) and as nostalgic as I am for Pepperidge Farm stuffing and canned cranberry sauce, this week I am missing another important piece of my past: the Grill restaurant in Tucson, Arizona. A landmark of downtown Tucson for decades, Grill (true regulars know to leave off the “the”) shut its doors this week, leaving many current and former Tucsonans distraught and de-caffeinated. Open 24 hours, serving breakfast “until tomorrow,” Grill’s menu offered the helpful tip: “when dining out, insist on food.” If you were to walk by it, you may be forgiven in thinking it was just a diner, but it was much more than that.

Grill was first opened in its current iteration in 1994 by James Graham, a classically-trained chef who made it an amalgamation of a traditional New York diner fare and more haute cuisine. In addition to burgers and fries, an impossible-to-finish short stack of pancakes, and steak and eggs, you’d find surprises on the menu. Toasted and fried “Spanish ravioli” (mysteriously called “depth bombs”). A salad with hearts of palm and fresh mozzarella. Even a big bowl of Cap’n Crunch. Some of those old favorites were left off the menu when James sold it in 1999 and moved to L.A., but his original rules remained in effect: tater tots only available late night and never with cheese. No ranch dressing. Always tip your waiter (that’s just polite).

Beyond the food and coffee, Grill was a haven for many people, with a constant rotation of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. Many of Tucson’s eccentrics, artists, and just plain weirdos called it home; it was a hipster hangout before hipsters existed. I spent much of my adolescence in one of the red booths, drinking coffee, smoking illicit cigarettes, doing crossword puzzles, crying over boyfriends, and occasionally studying. Even my father, a downtown-based criminal defense attorney, was a regular for lunch and we’d occasionally cross paths, each slightly embarrassed to see the other in such a sacred space. Bringing a new boyfriend to Grill was in important test: if you didn’t respect and appreciate Grill, it was a personal affront. When I moved to New York in 1998, I had a special named after me: the Meg Lamb Memorial “You’re Gonna Make it After All” Knish Dish.

Grill changed a bit over the nearly 15 years since I left Arizona. The adjoining Red Room was a lounge space in my day, with a much-used photo booth, an assortment of motley board games, and some antique couches where my high school poetry club used to meet monthly. For the past several years, Red Room was a bar and music space separate from Grill. In my last visit in 2007, it didn’t feel quite the same, but the spirit remained the same: an oasis in Tucson’s occasionally desolate downtown, “open later than you think.”

If you go to Tucson now, you can still find a few spots for late-coffee and eats. The perennial goth favorite, Cafe Quebec, is now the worker-owned cooperative Shot in the Dark Cafe. The bikers hanging out at Safehouse are friendlier than they appear. The Hotel Congress is home to the Cup Cafe, in addition to one of Tucson’s best nightlife scenes. Later this year, James Graham will open a new restaurant in Los Angeles: Ba Restaurant in Highland Park, serving French provincial classics, a major departure from diner fare. A growing Facebook group is trying to inspire a new Grill to rise from the ashes. One question remains: how does the next door Wig-O-Rama stay recession-proof?!

Thanks for the memories Grill!

Photo courtesy James Graham, circa 1994.