Buenos Aires is often accused of being culturally a ‘European’ city, and while I can’t speak much to that because I haven’t been to Europe, I can vouch for the fact that European café culture has certainly gained a firm foothold in Buenos Aires – and it is a very, very good thing. First of all, wifi is generally spotty here but coffee is cheap so it’s important to find a good café with reliable wifi to do homework. Cafes are also the ideal locales for meeting up with friends and getting to know the people on the program and in the city. Sometimes there can be significant pressure to spend the entirety of a semester abroad traveling and having exotic experiences all day every day, but not every experience needs to be an extravagant excursion and often more is gained by sitting down for a long, unhurried conversation over a cup of café con leche. I’ve cemented all of my closest friendships here with regular coffee dates and found opportunities to stop by cafes with locals after class, and these experiences have created space for the deepest and most interesting conversations I’ve had while abroad. There are probably six cafes within a one block radius of my apartment in Recoleta, so finding a good one is easy and affordable wherever you live in the city. Here are a few coffee shop tips to help you maximize your Buenos Aires café experience:
Get Into Café Con Leche.
Café con leche is the standard café beverage here because it’s wonderful. It is exactly what it sounds like: coffee with milk. This drink usually goes for about 50-60 Argentine pesos, so that’s about in the $3-4 range. People often top off a meal out with a café con leche or an espresso in lieu of dessert, but I find it most useful as a complement to an afternoon of homework.
Croissants Are Better Here.
Medialunas are the pastry of choice in Buenos Aires – crispy, flaky croissants covered in a sugary glaze. They’re good stuff. There are tons of bakeries – there are several right by the IFSA office – which offer fresh, extremely reasonable medialunas to snack on. One friend of mine has them for lunch every day, buying three for about 20 pesos or just over $1. There are often deals on the menu to cheaply add a medialuna (or three) to your beverage of choice, and I recommend going for it.
Toast Isn’t Just Toast.
Tostadas, or toast, don’t come as just plain toasted bread – the classic tostada is a little toasted, crustless sandwich with ham and cheese. There is a general fascination with ham and cheese in Buenos Aires – ham and cheese pizza, ham and cheese empanadas, ham and cheese sandwiches – and tostadas are no different. These vary in price depending on where you go, but they are often within the 60 peso ($3.50-4) range and frequently cheaper when paired with a café con leche or espresso.
Do-it-Yourself Hot Chocolate
I ordered a hot chocolate once and thought I must be the butt of a joke when the waiter brought me a tall glass of milk and a chocolate bar. However, this is standard hot chocolate practice in Buenos Aires: the drink is called a submarino and you submerge your chocolate bar and stir it as it melts into the hot milk. These go for about 60 pesos as well. Some submarinos are more chocolatey than others – I recommend a submarino from Café Biblos to get the full chocolate experience.
Find Your Kind of Alfajor.
Alfajors are the staple snack in Buenos Aires: every kiosk (little convenience stores scattered throughout the city) is lined with them and they can be found in every bakery and most cafes. Alfajors are layered cookies often filled with dulce de leche, the sweet nectar of Argentina, and encased in a chocolatey shell. Some alfajors in kiosks go for as little as 5 or ten pesos (about $0.50) but most between 17 and 25 pesos ($1-2). In cafes, you can expect to pay anywhere from 40 to 90 pesos ($2-5) depending on the size and type of alfajor.
A Café to Get You Started
To get you going on your Buenos Aires café journey, here is a recommendation for you: “Partners” is a great café on the corner of the IFSA office’s street. Partners offers reliably solid wifi, great salads, tasty pastries, good coffee, and a cozy atmosphere. You can periodically spot Mario, the program director, treating friends and students to coffee there. They also sell particularly delightful alfajors, as pictured above.
Whether you were a café person or not before coming to Buenos Aires, I recommend becoming one now. Of course, make sure to try things off this list, but these are a few things to keep an eye out for which you can count on being there for you during your semester abroad in Buenos Aires.
Bethany Catlin is an English and International Studies major at Macalester College and studied abroad through the IFSA-Butler Argentine Universities Program, Buenos Aires in 2017. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-to-Study Program.