Brazil is famous for its coffee production, but if you’re expecting to find Rio de Janeiro awash with the sophisticated coffee houses that line the streets of the United States and Western Europe, you could be in for a shock.
Coffee culture in Rio exists, but it’s a very different beast from that which we’ve become accustomed to in the Northern Hemisphere. Here coffee is more about fueling the daily grind than relaxing and catching up with friends, and is typically served in plastic expresso cups, black, very strong and stiff with sugar.
Often dished out free at supermarkets and at pay-by-weight restaurants, this is caffeine as a necessity rather than an indulgence. Interestingly, many simple bars and snack bars only sell coffee in the mornings – ask after noon and you may be out of luck. That said, coffee here is really very good. A steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee is just the thing to accompany your cafe de manha (breakfast), and it’s served up first thing at most hotels, hostels and guest houses. If you prefer your coffee milky, ask for café com leite, or, if you like it very milky, ask for café media, which more or less translates as half and half.
Of course, if you’re looking for something a little more sophisticated, there are options available as long as you know where to look. While Rio is not yet a ‘skinny latte decaf’ or ‘mochaccino with non-fat milk’ society, coffee culture is catching on here.
New coffee shops are springing up in well-heeled areas of the city’s South Zone such as Ipanema and Leblon, many of which offer a vast range of mouthwatering cakes (brownies appear to be the current big thing in Rio), biscuits and sweet and savory pastries to accompany your coffee. You will find cappuccino, Irish coffees and even flavored coffees on the menu at most of these places, but expect to pay several times more than you’d spend on a simple cup of milky coffee at a corner bar.
For a really indulgent coffee experience, head for Confeitaria Colombo, at Rua Goncalves Dias in the heart of Centro. This vast, elegant building with its enormous jacaranda wood-framed mirrors and cascading chandeliers is a real journey back to Rio’s Belle Epoque, and offers indulgent afternoon teas as well as full meals, snacks, and a range of coffees.
Photo courtesy of Lili Vieira de Carvalho/Creative Commons