Chile, What’s Up With Your Coffee?

Some mornings, you just need a good cup of coffee. OK, that’s most every morning. But in Chile, despite a plethora of cafes, it might be hard to find.

At first, this surprised us. In our Californian minds, South America is linked to coffee – we’ve spent our adult lives sipping grocery store blends with beans from places like Colombia, Peru and Brazil. We also knew coffee beans are grown at high elevations, like the Andes. But it seems as though the minute we crossed the border into Chile, our requests for café were met with hot water and a packet of the instant stuff. What gives?

We soon found out. Unlike those in the rest of South America, consumers in Chile (and its northeastern neighbor, Bolivia), tend to prefer tea over coffee. This is for many reasons, from tradition to availability to price. But the good news is, coffee culture in Chile has been blooming for a while now – in Santiago, at least.

Some Chileans craving a cup of joe are moving away from instant coffee to fresh grounds and pods, and sometimes even fresh beans, thanks largely in part to successful specialty shops like Starbucks. Starbucks moved into the country in 2003 and has opened more than 60 shops since then, nearly all of them in Santiago. (Kind of ironic that the company American coffee snobs love to hate is making such an impact on the culture elsewhere, no?)

With all this in mind, we set out in Santiago to find a great cup of coffee. As it turns out, you just have to know where to look. Here is a map of all the specialty coffee shops we found – but it is, by no means, comprehensive. We didn’t get a chance to visit them all, obviously, but hopefully this map makes it easy to find one near you.

Now, a post about Chilean coffee wouldn’t be complete without a side note on café con piernas (“coffee with legs”). This trend, which involves voluptuous waitresses in mini skirts and the like, has been popular with businessmen since the 1960s but really took off 1990s, when some waitresses began wearing bikinis. Today, these cafes can be found behind darkened windows throughout traditionally conservative Santiago, and the locals really seem to own them – like a beer-drinking American might enjoy a trip to Hooter’s (but with a little more class). OK, then!

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