Is it me, or does coffee get more press and stir more emotion than tea, or hot chocolate? Would there be baristas if there was no coffee, only tea? For me, nothing sets a bad tone for the day more than when I mess up my morning coffee in my pre-caffeine stumblings, and nothing begins the day better than when I make the perfect cup.
I became passionate about Brazil’s top export when I was 16, and on an exchange visit to Germany. My host family drank their coffee long, strong, sweet and black, and an addiction was born in me from my first sip. I drank it that way for years and years, with the odd defection to cappuccino when visiting Italy, or café au lait in France, (because I liked to say the name). I insisted that to drink it any other way was sacrilegious, and most definitely not cool.
So, when I immigrated to Tenerife I was delighted to find the coffee strong and sweet, if not long. Somehow the Americanos just didn’t cut it, the café con leche was insipid, and I took to drinking café solo, which is to say, expresso.
However, new experiences were in store in the form of cortado leche leche. Now, cortados exist on the mainland. It’s a small strong, but white coffee, but it’s the leche leche part which sets the Canary Island version apart. Leche is Spanish for milk, so, basically, it means coffee with double milk. It comes in a small glass, and a normal strong, white coffee is poured over a first layer of condensed milk. Despite it being incredibly sweet, as you can imagine, a sachet of sugar is always provided, and often used by locals. The one above was partaken by my dad in Valentino’s in Las Galletas the other week (great ice cream there too btw).
As a variation, a Spanish liqueur called “43” can be added, and the drink then becomes a barraquito. It used to be that, on being presented with a glass, you couldn’t tell the difference between cortado leche leche or barraquito, but these days the latter have taken on a following all their own, and now come in many-layered variations, like the one below, which I had not so long ago in Restaurante La Caleta, in the once-fishing-village-now-resort area of La Caleta in Adeje. I can highly recommend stopping by there to sip one as the sun goes down.
As I sampled the delights of Canarian coffee over the years, back in the “real” world the Starbucks revolution was happening, and coffees of every different type, shade and name were being invented. Visits to the US or the UK left me depressed about the state of Canarian coffee, and its lack of variety. Sure, I still liked my own mug of the strong stuff for the early morning kickstart, but after that I yearned to mix it up with a mild latte or a hint of hazelnut in the darkness. I’d tried asking for cappuccino in bars which seemed a bit more “with it” over the years, but they’d always come up with weak, white coffee with a generous glob of squirty cream on top (gag!) ……undrinkable once you’d scraped it off.
The revolution took a long time in coming, but it’s here at last. Waiters who used to shrug when you mentioned latte now whirl away and return with a frothy mug; ask for cappuccino and you are entering a competition to judge the cutest decoration; mention iced coffee and no-one doubts what you mean. We don’t have the same choice as on mainland Europe, but we do now have coffee to suit most moods – if you know where to look, of course. I expected the revolution to be confined to the smart bars of Santa Cruz or La Laguna, to the cosmopolitan airport bars or the smart resort areas, but asking for café con leche recently in San Miguel de Abona village I was presented with a mug of creamy coffee which resembled latte in taste and texture if not in name. The pretty cappuccino below was in La Pirata in Las Galletas a few weeks back.
Now – I wonder when we will see the first chai latte?