News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.
By Darren M. Popik —
I’m convinced that one of the surest signs of a vibrant, civilized culture is having a thriving coffee house scene.
On this basis alone, Mexico City surely counts as one of the most civilized places on the planet, given the number of cafés in the city.
Regardless of the brand, the one thing you can be sure at any of these coffee joints in the DF is free Wi-Fi. In fact, the coffee itself often seems to be a secondary purpose — we also go to these places to socialize with friends (and make new ones), and to get something done on our laptop computers.
And I have to say that reading a book while enjoying the sun at an outdoor table is also very nice. Even with nothing else to do, simply sitting outdoors and enjoying a beverage while people watching is one of the things I like best about being in the Condesa.
Of course, this is to say nothing of the opportunity to listen to the many street musicians who pass by to play a song and look for a few pesos.
And this morning, as I scan the morning papers with my coffee, while sitting in the open air and enjoying a warm early February morning, I see the news that one of my favorite coffee houses is coming to Mexico.
Juan Valdez Café
Yes, it’s the icon of Colombian coffee, famous round the world, and it’s also the name of the coffee chain operated by the country’s coffee grower cooperative.
And now, the Juan Valdez Café — already popular throughout Colombia — will be opening three stores in Mexico City this year.
As for where they’re going to set up shop, reports say the company is looking at Santa Fe, Polanco, and Reforma.
The company recently opened its 200th store, the majority of which are in Colombia, though they do also have a presence in Chile, Panama, Ecuador, Aruba, and the U.S. (Miami airport, Manhattan, JFK/EWR airports, and a Washington DC store).
But Juan Valdez is just the latest company to bring its brand of coffee to Mexico.
This legendary Seattle-based company has become ubiquitous in Mexico.
Starbucks first entered the Mexican market in 2002, in partnership with Mexico’s ALSEA. To mark their 10th anniversary in the country last fall, CEO Howard Schultz was in Mexico City for the opening of their 360th café in the country, a “green” store located in Chapultepec Park.
These days, Starbucks seems to be everywhere, particularly in the popular zones of Mexico City. In fact, the company is opening yet another store in the Condesa, this one on Alfonso Reyes, in a very cool old house, next door to the Honduran Embassy. This brings their Condesa store count to five.
For me, there are a few things on the menu at Mexican Starbucks (not available at their US/Canadian stores) that stand out — pan de queso (cheese bread), cheesecake, and their croissant integral a la mexicana (breakfast croissant). My favorites.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
Meanwhile, in the last week of January, another of my favorite coffee houses just opened a brand new Mexico City location.
The Coffee Bean, the Los Angeles-based chain synonymous with Southern California just opened its eighth Mexico City store, located in the new Capital Reforma office/shopping complex, at the corner of Reforma and Niza (at the Glorieta de la Palma).
The company is marking its 50th anniversary this year, since the opening of its first store in Brentwood in 1963. They arrived in Mexico City just three years ago, but my sources tell me more Mexico City stores are on the way for this SoCal landmark.
Though the Coffee Bean has franchised locations in a number of countries, Mexico City is the only place in the Americas (outside the U.S.) where you can find their stores.
And by the way, if you haven’t visited the Coffee Bean, it’s one of the rare places in Mexico (along with Starbucks) where you can get a bagel with your coffee.
A visit to the Coffee Bean always makes me feel like I’m back in Beverly Hills.
Italian Coffee Company
Despite the name, this company is 100 percent Mexican. They’re not as easy to find in Mexico City as some of their competitors, but if you’ve ever visited Puebla, you’ll sure know who they are, because they’re everywhere in that city.
Founded in Puebla in 1996, the Italian Coffee Company has eight stores in the DF, plus another handful scattered throughout the suburbs (Estado de Mexico). In total, they have 388 stores located throughout the republic (plus Texas), with locations in all states except Baja California and Zacatecas.
They make a darn fine cappuccino, and I’m also partial to their tasty ham and cheese croissants.
Cielito Querido Café
This Mexican company seems to be a real rising star. Cielito Querido Café is barely three years old, but already they have 25 locations in the greater Mexico City area.
They proudly set themselves apart from their competitors with their distinct Mexican flavor, which includes menu items like horchata, tamales, and molletes, in addition to the traditional coffees, espressos, cappuccinos, etc.
What I like best about them, though, is their music selection. Of all the cafes I visit, I particularly dig the music at Cielito. I don’t recall any other place where I can hear my favorite “little old band from Texas”, ZZ Top, performing La Grange, Tom Jones belting out his cover of Black Betty, Perry Como’s Papa Loves Mambo, or the classic instrumental/surf tune Pipeline, by the Chantays.
And I will typically hear such a range of tunes all on just the same visit to my Condesa store on Avenida Michoacán.
Of course, the music is just part of the inviting ambiance at Cielito. Combined with their unique decor and friendly baristas, I find it one of the most pleasant places to spend time in my neighborhood. And judging by the fact that my local Cielito is packed every late afternoon and evening, I’d say a lot of people agree.
For the moment, you won’t find Cielito outside Mexico City, but this won’t be the case for long. The company is has plans to expand outside the DF, with its eyes set on Northern Mexico, as well as the Latino market in the U.S.
Café Punta del Cielo
Another Mexican chain, Café Punta del Cielo has been around since 2004, and now has 38 stores in the DF (plus 18 in the ‘burbs of Edomex). Beyond the DF, you can find them in 22 states across the country.
The Punta del Cielo brand can also be found at supermarkets throughout the country. If you’re looking for excellent quality coffee from Oaxaca, Chiapas, or Veracruz, Café Punta del Cielo delivers.
I first visited Café Punta del Cielo in 2006 at their Polanco store on Masaryk — a great location. It’s a great high-traffic location, though I have to say that in this regard, I find it hard to beat their Condesa store … conveniently located next door to Krispy Kreme.
Café Finca Santa VeraCruz
Another coffee company that’s proudly Mexican is Café Finca Santa VeraCruz.
The company opened their first cafes in 1999, and has become a fixture in the DF, with some 64 locations, along with a presence in 12 states Central and Southern Mexico.
Their outlets tend to be smaller in size than many of their competitors, but their Mexican-grown coffee is every bit as good as the rest.
Garat Café opened their flagship coffee house just last summer in Polanco, their first incursion into the marketplace beyond selling their premium quality Mexican-grown coffee beans.
Since then, the company has added a location on Reforma (#231, opposite the Reforma 222 and Capital Reforma complexes), and they’ve also just opened in the north of the DF, at TecnoParque.
As I wrote in my review, Garat stands out for the quality of their coffee as well as the service at your table. And aside from that, their flagship store on Masaryk is just one very cool place, from an architectural standpoint, both inside and out. It’s a coffee house with an elegance that fits perfectly with the Polanco district.
Now, this piece doesn’t adequately cover all the coffee houses of Mexico City. There are so many smaller cafés that are also very deserving of mention, but space and time do not permit this today. (We’ll bring you more about these smaller, unique stores in a follow-up piece at a future date.)
However, I will conclude by mentioning one independent place which is popular amongst many of my friends.
Café Toscano (or simply the “Illy Café” as my friends also commonly refer to it, due to their sign advertising the Illy brand of coffee) has three locations in Condesa-Roma, all of which make for a great place to have a coffee and people-watch.
Their store at the corner of Parque México (Michoacan and Mexico) is a fun place to have a cappuccino, and watch both people and dogs in the park. It’s also a nice place for breakfast.
And they always have newspapers, which is something I like.
Café Toscano also has a location in Roma on Plaza Rio de Janeiro, and a newer location at the Mercado Michoacán in Condesa.
The biggest problem at Café Toscano? Finding a seat. Their cafés are popular, and at times can be completely packed, with people standing and waiting for an available table.
Now really, if you’re in the cafe/restaurant business, isn’t this the type of problem you want to have?
Yes, the fact that Café Toscano, and these other cafés are thriving, tells me that Mexico City has one very vibrant coffee house scene.
This is my idea of a civilized city.