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Ordering Coffee Like A Local At Buenos Aires’ Oldest Cafe


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Adorne Pinto



When it comes to immersing yourself in the local culture of Buenos Aires, one experience stands out: ordering coffee like a local at the city’s oldest café. As you step into the historic establishment, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the rich ambiance transports you to a bygone era.


Buenos Aires, the vibrant capital city of Argentina, is renowned for its rich coffee culture. From the traditional cafés adorned with elegant wood paneling and marble countertops to the bustling streetside coffee vendors, coffee is an integral part of daily life in Buenos Aires. Here, coffee is not just a mere beverage, but a social ritual that brings people together.


In this article, we will delve into the history of the oldest café in Buenos Aires, explore the unique coffee culture that thrives in the city, decipher the menu of this iconic café, and provide some tips to help you order coffee like a local.


So, grab a cup of coffee and join us on this journey to discover the essence of Buenos Aires’ coffee scene.


History of the Oldest Café in Buenos Aires

Step into the past as we unravel the fascinating history of the oldest café in Buenos Aires. Café Tortoni, founded in 1858, holds the esteemed title of being the city’s most iconic and historic café.


Located in the heart of the vibrant Avenida de Mayo, Café Tortoni has been a gathering place for intellectuals, artists, politicians, and locals alike for over 160 years. Its doors bear witness to countless conversations, artistic collaborations, and cultural milestones that have shaped the city’s identity.


The café’s name is inspired by the Italian city of Turin, known for its coffee houses. The founders, a group of French immigrants, sought to recreate the ambiance of the European café culture in Buenos Aires. From its inception, Café Tortoni became a haven for intellectuals and bohemians, attracting renowned personalities such as Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Gardel, and Leon Ferrari.


Walking through the café’s ornate entrance, adorned with its signature emblematic green and gold colors, you are immediately transported to a different era. The interior exudes an air of elegance with its polished wooden furnishings, stained glass windows, and intricate ceiling moldings. Every corner tells a story, making Café Tortoni not only a place to enjoy a cup of coffee, but also an immersive experience in history.


Over the years, the café has undergone renovations and adaptations while preserving its unique character. It has expanded to include additional spaces such as the elegant Bar de las Esfinges (Sphinx Bar), inspired by the ancient Egyptian and Greek civilizations. This expansion allows the café to accommodate a larger number of visitors while maintaining its timeless charm.


Today, Café Tortoni continues to be a cultural hub, hosting art exhibitions, live performances, and literary events. It stands as a symbol of Buenos Aires’ artistic and intellectual heritage, offering visitors a taste of both the city’s past and present.


As you sit in the same seats that legends of the past once occupied, you can’t help but feel a connection to the rich history that permeates every corner of this iconic Buenos Aires establishment.


The Unique Coffee Culture in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires boasts a vibrant and unique coffee culture that sets it apart from other cities around the world. Coffee is not just a quick caffeine fix here; it is a leisurely and social activity that encourages deep connection and conversation.


One of the defining features of Buenos Aires’ coffee culture is the concept of the “café con amigos” (coffee with friends). Whether it’s meeting up with old friends, catching up with colleagues, or engaging in passionate debates, coffee gatherings are an integral part of daily life in the city. Buenos Aires’ cafés serve as communal meeting places, where people come together to share stories, engage in lively discussions, and embrace the art of conversation.


In Buenos Aires, coffee is often enjoyed slowly and sipped leisurely, rather than quickly consumed on the go. Taking the time to savor the aroma and flavors of the coffee is considered essential. This unhurried approach to coffee drinking allows for meaningful connections and fosters a sense of relaxation in the midst of the bustling city.


Another unique aspect of Buenos Aires’ coffee culture is the preference for café de las piernas (coffee with milk) over traditional espresso. Unlike other parts of the world where espresso-based drinks like cappuccinos and lattes are common, Buenos Aires locals prefer their coffee with a generous amount of milk, creating a milder and smoother flavor profile.


Alongside coffee, sweet treats such as medialunas (croissants) and facturas (pastries) are often enjoyed as part of the coffee experience. Whether it’s indulging in a buttery croissant alongside your morning coffee or treating yourself to a decadent pastry during an afternoon coffee break, these delightful snacks perfectly complement the rich flavors of Buenos Aires’ coffee.


Furthermore, Buenos Aires’ coffee culture extends beyond the confines of traditional cafés. The city is dotted with kioscos, small shops or stands that serve coffee, cigarettes, and other items. These kioscos are an integral part of the urban landscape and provide a convenient and quick option for grabbing a cup of coffee on the go.


Overall, Buenos Aires’ coffee culture is about more than just the beverage itself. It’s about a sense of community, connection, and taking the time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. So, when in Buenos Aires, slow down, find a cozy café, and immerse yourself in the city’s unique coffee culture.


Understanding the Menu

When you sit down at a café in Buenos Aires, you may find yourself faced with a menu that is filled with unfamiliar terms and options. Understanding the menu is key to ordering the perfect coffee to suit your taste. Let’s decode some of the common items you’ll find on a Buenos Aires café menu:


1. Café: This is a simple black coffee, typically served in a small cup. It’s a strong and bold brew that captures the essence of Buenos Aires’ coffee culture.


2. Café con Leche: This is Buenos Aires’ version of a coffee with milk. It consists of equal parts coffee and milk, creating a smooth and creamy beverage that is loved by locals.


3. Cortado: This is a smaller coffee with a shot of milk, similar to an Italian macchiato. It strikes a perfect balance between the strength of the coffee and the creaminess of the milk.


4. Submarino: If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll love the submarino. It’s a unique Buenos Aires specialty that involves a glass of warm milk accompanied by a bar of chocolate. Simply dip the chocolate into the milk and watch it melt, creating a delicious and indulgent twist on the classic café con leche.


5. Mocha: This is a delightful blend of coffee, milk, and chocolate, creating a rich and decadent beverage that is perfect for those who love the combination of coffee and chocolate.


6. Té con Leche: While coffee takes center stage in Buenos Aires, tea lovers also have their options. Té con leche is a popular choice, consisting of hot water, tea leaves, and a splash of milk.


7. Licuado: If you’re looking for something refreshing, try a licuado. It’s a blended beverage made with fresh fruits, milk or yogurt, and ice. It’s the perfect choice on a hot summer day when you’re in need of a cool coffee alternative.


8. Mate: Although not strictly a coffee drink, mate is a traditional Argentine hot beverage made from the leaves of the yerba mate plant. It’s usually served in a gourd and sipped through a metal straw called a bombilla. If you’re feeling adventurous, give mate a try and experience a true Argentine ritual.


Now that you have a better understanding of the menu, you can confidently navigate the café scene in Buenos Aires and order the perfect beverage to satisfy your coffee craving!


Popular Coffee Drinks in Buenos Aires

When it comes to coffee, Buenos Aires offers a delightful array of options to suit every taste and preference. From traditional classics to unique local specialties, here are some of the popular coffee drinks you can enjoy during your visit to this vibrant city:


1. Café con Medialunas: This quintessential Buenos Aires combination pairs a strong cup of coffee with flaky and buttery medialunas, a local variation of croissants. The slightly sweet, crescent-shaped pastries perfectly complement the bold flavors of the coffee, making it a favorite choice for breakfast or an afternoon pick-me-up.


2. Submarino: As mentioned earlier, the submarino is a beloved Buenos Aires specialty. A glass of warm milk is accompanied by a bar of chocolate, which is then submerged in the milk. As the chocolate melts, it adds a delicious and indulgent touch to the creamy beverage.


3. Cola de Mono: This festive coffee drink is popular during the Christmas season in Buenos Aires. It is traditionally made with coffee, milk, aguardiente (a distilled alcoholic beverage), spices such as cloves and cinnamon, and a touch of sweetness. Sipping on a cup of Cola de Mono is a delightful way to embrace the holiday spirit.


4. Frappuccino de Dulce de Leche: Argentina is renowned for its dulce de leche, a thick and creamy caramel-like spread made from condensed milk. In Buenos Aires, you can indulge in a frappuccino de dulce de leche, a refreshing blended coffee drink that combines the rich flavors of coffee and dulce de leche with ice and milk. It’s a sweet and satisfying treat on a hot summer day.


5. Cappuccino: While cappuccino may not be exclusive to Buenos Aires, it remains a popular choice among locals and visitors alike. This classic Italian-inspired coffee drink features a shot of espresso topped with equal parts steamed milk and foam. Whether enjoyed in the morning with breakfast or during an afternoon break, a cappuccino offers a balanced and comforting coffee experience.


6. Café con Whisky: For those seeking a little extra kick, Buenos Aires has a classic drink that combines coffee with a splash of whisky. The robust flavors of the coffee blend harmoniously with the warmth and complexity of the whisky, creating a sophisticated and invigorating beverage that is sure to please coffee and whisky lovers alike.


7. Coffee Smoothies: Buenos Aires cafes also offer a range of coffee smoothies for those looking for a different take on their caffeine fix. These blended beverages combine coffee, milk or yogurt, ice, and a choice of flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, or fruit. Coffee smoothies provide a refreshing and energizing option, perfect for a hot summer day or a post-workout treat.


With these popular coffee drinks, Buenos Aires presents a diverse and exciting coffee scene that caters to all taste preferences. Whether you prefer a traditional cup of coffee or are keen to explore local specialties, there’s something for everyone in this bustling and vibrant city.


Tips for Ordering Coffee Like a Local

To truly immerse yourself in Buenos Aires’ coffee culture, it’s helpful to know some tips and tricks for ordering coffee like a local. Here are some important pointers to keep in mind:


1. Embrace the Café Culture: Buenos Aires is all about slowing down and savoring the moment. When you enter a café, take your time, find a comfortable spot, and enjoy the ambiance. Cafés are meant to be social spaces, so take advantage of the opportunity to connect with friends or strike up conversations with locals.


2. Know the Lingo: Familiarize yourself with the local coffee vocabulary to ensure you order the right drink. Master terms like café (black coffee), café con leche (coffee with milk), cortado (coffee with a shot of milk), and submarino (hot milk with a bar of chocolate on the side).


3. Try the Local Specialties: Don’t be afraid to venture beyond your usual coffee preferences and try the unique Buenos Aires specialties. Indulge in a café con medialunas for breakfast or treat yourself to a submarino for a sweet afternoon delight. Exploring the local specialties is part of the fun and adds to the overall experience.


4. Embrace the Siesta: In Buenos Aires, the concept of coffee extends beyond just the drink itself. It’s about taking a break, relaxing, and embracing the siesta culture. Instead of quickly downing your coffee and rushing off, take the time to sit back, recharge, and enjoy the moment.


5. Don’t Forget the Pastries: Coffee in Buenos Aires is often accompanied by delicious pastries. Be sure to explore the array of medialunas, facturas, and other sweet treats available at the café. Pairing your coffee with a delectable pastry completes the experience and enhances the flavors.


6. Choose the Right Time: Buenos Aires has designated times for specific coffee rituals. In the morning, locals often start their day with a strong black coffee, while the afternoon is reserved for more social and leisurely coffee breaks. Adjust your coffee choices accordingly to fully embrace the local coffee culture.


7. Stay Local: While international coffee chains can be found in Buenos Aires, it’s worth seeking out the traditional, family-run cafés that have been part of the city’s coffee culture for decades. These establishments often offer a more authentic experience and a chance to connect with the city’s history.


8. Use Cash: Some traditional cafés may only accept cash, so it’s a good idea to have some Argentine pesos on hand when visiting. This will ensure a smooth and hassle-free experience when it comes time to settle the bill.


By following these tips, you’ll be able to navigate the Buenos Aires coffee scene with confidence and truly enjoy the local coffee culture. So, take a sip, savor the flavors, and embrace the art of coffee in this bustling city!



Buenos Aires’ coffee culture is a delightful journey into the heart and soul of the city. From the historic café establishments to the unique coffee drinks, every cup tells a story and reflects the vibrant spirit of this bustling metropolis.


By understanding the history of the oldest café in Buenos Aires, we gain a deeper appreciation for the cultural significance of coffee in the city. Café Tortoni stands as a symbol of Buenos Aires’ artistic and intellectual heritage, inviting us to step back in time as we sip our coffee and immerse ourselves in the rich atmosphere.


The unique coffee culture in Buenos Aires is truly something special. The concept of the “café con amigos” brings people together, fostering connections through meaningful conversations and shared moments. The preference for coffee with milk, the indulgence of sweet treats, and the appreciation for a leisurely coffee break all contribute to the distinctive coffee scene in Buenos Aires.


Understanding the menu and trying popular coffee drinks allows us to explore the flavors and traditions of Buenos Aires. Whether it’s enjoying a classic café con leche, indulging in a submarino, or embracing the Christmas spirit with a cup of Cola de Mono, each drink offers a unique experience that can’t be replicated elsewhere.


To truly immerse yourself in Buenos Aires’ coffee culture, remember to order like a local. Take your time, embrace the café siesta, and savor the moment. Try the traditional specialties, pair your coffee with delicious pastries, and seek out the authentic local cafés for a genuine experience.


In conclusion, ordering coffee like a local in Buenos Aires is not just about the beverage itself, but about embracing a way of life. It’s about connecting with others, enjoying the finer things in life, and taking the time to appreciate the simple pleasures. So, the next time you find yourself in Buenos Aires, step into a café, order a cup of coffee, and let the vibrant coffee culture of the city engage your senses and captivate your soul.