This blog is the namesake of the now near-daily outings affectionately dubbed by a couple of my friends and I when we want to get together to sit and sip coffee and eat all different kinds of pan, or bread. Giving credit where it’s due, my friend Nicole is the mastermind behind the name.
One morning, I found myself added to a newly created WhatsApp group called “Coffee n Carbs.” Needless to say, I was immediately enticed and what started out as a joke is still a joke, but now it’s also become a beloved ritual. I always look forward to these simple gatherings where we can chat, make plans, talk existentialism, gossip, quote Mean Girls or just blow off steam all while consuming delicious or less-than-stellar coffee, depending on that day’s venue, and a quality pastry on the side.
I’ve been a fan of coffee (and carbs too, obviously) since before Coffee n Carbs’ inception, so it only makes sense now that I’m living in coffee country of the country of coffee that I seek out the cafés that serve the best coffee. As our Coffee n Carbs group expands its meetings beyond its original location, I’ve taken it upon myself to share the experiences and wisdom I’ve gained thus far from visiting different shops in the region. So here it is, in somewhat of the order that I discovered them, I’ve laid out some of my favorite spots to get my coffee fix in this area. At all of these places, you can also get yourself a tasty little something, so that you too can have your own “Coffee n Carbs.”
Juan Valdez ~ The Starbucks of Colombia, if you will. As a (former?) Starbucks junkie living in a city without one, this is the closest I can get to the look, feel and number of menu items of my sorely missed, overpriced, overly-customizable specialty coffee drink place. Although Jimmy V’s (as some fellows who are Juan Valdez regulars refer to it) menu options are not as vast as Starbucks, fear not, as they do share the trait of having overpriced (by peso standards for Juan Valdez), yet refreshingly tasty variety coffee drinks. Nonetheless, I do enjoy coming here for a latte tradicional con hielo, a simple iced latte, as I haven’t found many good ones anywhere else, since most places seem to forget that coffee is the main component of the drink and not milk.
Café Quindío ~ A pinky-out-while-holding-your-coffee-cup kind of place, but even if that’s not your preferred way to sip your morning mud, don’t let that stop you from trying this splendid coffee joint! This place is unique in that their menu shows and explains all of the different methods that your cup can be prepared so that you can have your coffee al gusto, just how you like it. If you want something a little fancier than just coffee, I can assure you, Café Quindío does fancy. You can order cappuccinos, lattes, tea, granizados (blended beverages) or just about anything your heart desires and even things you might not realize you desire, but you soon will; e.g. I had my first limonada con café granizado here.
Wanderlust Café ~ A cute, little, modern café that shares its name with the attached hostel I stayed at for the first week after I arrived in Armenia. It would make sense if this were the first coffee shop I discovered in this city, but it wasn’t, which is a shame because everything about it is a delight. I actually don’t typically order the coffee from here, although it’s definitely good enough for a mention. Instead, if you catch me here, I will likely be kicking back with an aromática de frutas, a delicious tea infusion of a multitude of fruits. The great thing about this drink is that there’s almost as much to eat as there is to drink, so I always leave here feeling satisfied.
Maxipan ~ The favorite panadería, or bakery, of the Coffee n Carbs crew. In all honesty, Maxipan should not even be on this list. Their coffee is fantastically unexceptional and usually burns my tongue, but this is where Coffee n Carbs was born and I would be remiss to leave it off this list without sharing its redeeming qualities. As its name suggests, and because we all really enjoy our carbs, we picked this place for the maximum amount of choices for delicious pan. I recommend their brownies, which are really more like pieces of chocolate cake with some arequipe (Colombia’s caramel) and chopped peanuts for garnishment. If carbs by themselves aren’t your thing, they also serve complete meals, but just breakfast, where you can add some eggs and cheese to the mix.
El Café That Shall Not Be Named ~ But also doesn’t really have a name, which makes it hard to tell you where to go, however my Coffee n Carbs clan and I would like to keep it a secret, so this one is only on this list so that you at least know it exists. This café has the gift of simultaneously serving the best and worst cup of tinto (black coffee). The best because it is the strongest, tastiest coffee I’ve found that needs no sugar and the worst because they never give you enough; in fact, every time I go, I swear the serving gets smaller. I’ll never stop going though as long as the coffee stays as exquisite as it is. I will happily bring anyone who wants to experience the magic here, but a blindfold will be involved.
Café de La Morelia ~ A place smaller than a storage locker with a couple of tables and chairs in front of it, but much like El Café That Shall Not Be Named, this place serves a flavorful coffee that packs a punch. It’s named after the very local farm that produces their coffee. The thing I really like about this place is that they also sell bags of their coffee (guess what everyone back home is getting from me), so even when you can’t get to it or you don’t have the pesitos for it (however it’s not very expensive), you can at least attempt to replicate a cup for yourself.
Coffee Brewing ~ With how many times I must have walked past this place, I’m surprised I didn’t stumble upon it sooner, although it is easy to miss. As I get older, I look for things that make me feel young and hip again and Coffee Brewing does just that. It’s the kind of place where it seems like the cool kids would hang out. It has a modern, but unconventional artsy interior and they even play tunes that are probably more popular back in the U.S. than they are here. Now that I think about it, you’re more likely to find hipsters here, but nonetheless, I think it’s still cool and if you’re looking for a great cold brew, then Coffee Brewing is it. You’ll dole out a few extra pesos for it, but you won’t even care once that coffee hits your lips.
Café Expedición ~ This place was the choice coffee stop for a solid week or so and not without reason. There’s several items I would recommend from here, with my personal favorite being the genius concoction of a latte and coconut, or café latte de coco. I love both of these things separately, and combined, it’s the perfect anytime drink. If you’re feeling really frisky though, try their coffee soda; it’s a one-of-a-kind sensational experience for your taste buds. But even if you’re just looking for a simple coffee, this is still the spot! As sometimes, you get the opportunity to choose where your coffee beans come from and it doesn’t get more al gusto than that.
Café and Chocolate Parrilla ~ This was a very recent and completely accidental discovery. Instead of roller derby practice like my Coffee n Carbs friend, Marian, and I were supposed to go to, we ended up here, eating and drinking rather than exercising. No regrets though, because I enjoyed yet another marvelous tinto and her a café con leche. Like the ballenas (whales) we are, we also ordered a spinach and cheese crepe and for dessert, a Nutella crepe. They were just as fabulous as they sound and based on how busy it was on a Sunday afternoon, we weren’t the only ones who thought so (which is saying a lot because not too many people are out and about on Sundays down here). Not a bad way to kill the time that we were supposed to spend sweating and burning calories.
Café Jesús Martín ~ Bonus points for places that have free samples! While waiting for your coffee (or whatever your drink of choice is), sometimes they have a small table off to the side with thermoses of different coffee blends that you can try and I assure you, I haven’t had a bad one yet. The only downside is that they are not available to order. For me, this spot’s claims to fame are, of course, their coffee, their sampling table of coffee and the novelty of looking out the window at the colorful buildings of Salento across the street as you drink your beverage.
Las Heliconias Café-Bar ~ This café is in an unlikely spot as you probably won’t simply stumble upon it: it’s located at the very end of a mostly residential street on the edge of town and for this reason, it has the best view you could ever hope to gaze upon while drinking a good cup of coffee. They have a bar inside with gaping windows you can sit at or an outside patio that both have a completely unobstructed panorama of the brightest, rolling green hills of the Eje Cafetero, the city of Pereira off in the distance, and the mountains in the background.
I’m by no means a coffee connoisseur, so I cannot be held liable if you try any of these places and are not satisfied with your purchase. However, they all have some sort of charm to them besides the drinks or food; whether that be an awesome view, friendly baristas or unique atmosphere, you’ll remember the place for one reason or another. Even if it’s just for terrible coffee.